Meatless McDonald’s? It’s Happening

Expecting an incredibly successful global franchise to refresh its brand by starting a branch that doesn’t carry its best-known product is a little unrealistic. Can you imagine, for example, an Auto Zone with no car products or a Payless with no shoes in stock?

How about a McDonald’s that serves no meat?

The world’s biggest fast food chain surprised investors this week by announcing that it will indeed establish at least two all-vegetarian branches in northern India. The country’s dominant Hindu religion places the cow on a spiritual pedestal, and nearly half of all Indian citizens are vegetarians.

This isn’t really such a leap, though—McDonald’s has achieved significant success in China by tailoring its menus to satisfy local tastes (despite the fact that KFC is much larger in the People’s Republic), and it has tried desperately to win business in India for more than 20 years. The company has long served the Indian market with a half-veggie menu—its most popular item is a fried potato patty called the McAloo Tiki burger.

We might wonder why the burger hut has been so persistent were it not for the fact that India is the world’s second-largest country and one of its fastest-growing economies, home to millions of citizens with the economic strength to purchase the soy or potato-based equivalent of a Big Mac for lunch.

While we’re amused by this story, we don’t expect to see too many of the famous golden arches advertising all-veggie menus anytime soon. If the Indian consumers that McDonald’s wants so badly truly revere the cow, a simple review of the company’s animal rights practices should quickly turn them away despite recent PR efforts to counter its reputation for factory farming.

What do you think? Will an all-veggie McDonald’s work in India? Would it work anywhere else? Can you imagine, say, the Dalai Lama snacking on an apple pie and some all-soy sausage?