Is The UK Hungry For Vegan McNuggets?

Is The UK Hungry For Vegan McNuggets?

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Photo by Joshua Austin on Unsplash

It’s official; vegan McNuggets could be hitting the menu in UK McDonalds. While there is absolutely no doubt that demand for vegetarian and vegan produce has increased in the UK, how will consumers react to such a move by a company with McDonalds’ animal welfare track record?

Earlier in 2019, McDonalds introduced a vegetarian Happy Meal. Many saw the move as a positive one, asserting that it proves how “mainstream” it has become to shun meat. (iNews) Although it is not advertised as such, the Happy Meal is vegan-friendly, although the tortilla wraps pass through the same toaster as the restaurant’s buns (which contain milk).

In a recent poll, one third of McDonald’s UK customers said it was important to them to include more meat-free meals into their household’s diets. Lynne Elliot, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society, said:

“There’s a growing demand for veggie food everywhere and it’s fantastic to see McDonald’s meeting the needs of their customers.

“It is especially important for young veggies to be able to choose something to eat when they are out with their friends.”

This is undoubtedly a valid point, and one that applies also applies to young vegans, as well as those stumbling home from a night out who may soon have the opportunity to enjoy fast food with their carnivorous friends. Despite this, some vegans are unsure about McDonalds’ attempt to introduce vegan products to their menus.

So what is involved in a vegan McNugget?

The vegan McNugget, which is currently being tested in Norway, is made from a mashed potato base, chickpeas, carrots, onions and sweetcorn. Rather than the traditional McNugget batter coating, the “Vegetarnuggets” (according to the English translation on the McDonalds’ Norway’s website) are covered in breadcrumbs and then fried until crispy.

Vegan McNuggets are not the only vegan fare being trialled in the Scandi countries; in Swedish McDonalds the ‘McFalafel’ has launched and Swedish and Finnish Maccy D’s are also the first to try the ‘McVegan’ burger.

New vegan McNuggets from McDonalds showing sweetcorn inside.
The new vegan McNuggets, available in Norway. Image taken from Twitter

Vegan McNuggets; the controversy

One of the main concerns for vegans and animal welfare activists regarding McDonald’s foray into the plant-based world is ethics. Sarah King, a vegan blogger from Bristol, explains:

“It’s great that veganism is going more mainstream and it’s becoming more accessible to people.

“But on the other hand, McDonalds is still not an ethical company to support. There are other factors at play, not just the ingredients that go into the food.” (BBC)

Amongst concerns are the company’s environmental impact and the fairness of its wages for employees. Arguably, the company has taken steps recently to reduce its environmental impact, including the recycling of its chip oil and its investment in trialling the eco cup of the future.

Equally, there is controversy for vegans in supporting a company that still deals in mass-produced animal products. Although last year’s Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare report found that McDonalds outperformed its rivals, it also stated that the company must do more to become a true animal welfare leader, particularly for chickens farmed for their meat. Despite making some positive changes, such as sourcing eggs from cage-free hens and sourcing higher welfare pork in the UK, McDonalds has shown a lack of progress in stopping the use of fast-growing meat chickens and providing the animals with room to live comfortably. Thus, supporting a company whose animal welfare report is good, but not great, as a vegan or even a vegetarian could cause a certain amount of dissonance.

For some, concerns lie with the tastiness of the product itself. Some vegans have taken to Twitter to express their disappointment that McDonalds have not chosen to go with a meat alternative, as Greggs did with their vegan sausage roll. With the availability of vegan nugget substitutes in the supermarket, those who are after something akin to the real deal arguably have a point. Mashing together some vegetables and coating it in breadcrumb don’t quite evoke the same salivary responses as real nuggets or the number of decent veggie and vegan alternatives out there.

For others, however, the news is welcome. Having more high street chains and fast food outlets catering for vegan diets improves their options for grabbing a quick bite and, of course, for soaking up the alcohol after a night out. Dane Cobain, a 29-year-old vegan from High Wycombe, said:   

“It’s nice to show people you can be a vegan and still go to places like that without changing your habits too much.

“I think as well, for myself and for a lot of other vegans, we see these things as little victories and signs that the movement is growing.” (BBC)

Will they or won’t they?

At present, McDonalds has no plans to bring the vegan nuggets to other parts of the world, despite being described as a trial. In addition, the Norwegian branches of McDonalds are currently deep-frying their vegan nuggets in the same oil as products containing cheese, thus not making them strictly vegan.

Despite some initial controversy, Greggs’ vegan sausage roll has been a huge success in the UK and has been credited with helping their sales surge by 9.6% in the first seven weeks of 2019.

Whilst ethical and environmental concerns surrounding some of the bigger fast food chains are valid, there is no denying that the demand for vegan produce is there. With big names trialling plant-based fare, the vegan lifestyle is moving past trendy and into the norm.

The move of veganism into the mainstream undoubtedly gives hope for the smaller producers out there who will begin to battle less and less against the perception of the vegan lifestyle as ‘hippyish’ or a fleeting fad. We may be on the cusp of a plant-based revolution and whether or not we get vegan McNuggets here in the UK, the fact that a company as large and influential as McDonalds is trialling vegan fare gives hope for a turning in the tide.

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