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A Former McDonald's CEO Just Joined the Board of a Vegan Startup

Don Thompson, the former CEO of McDonald’s, is looking to the future—and the future is apparently in plant-based products that are substitutes for chicken and burgers.
Photo via Flickr user Carlos

The joys of a delicious burger are too many to list. Sadly, non-meat-eaters who want to get in on the beef action too often have to settle for second-rate lifeless veggie burgers. You may have heard that one company, Beyond Meat, has been trying to fix that.

California's Beyond Meat aims to make superior vegan burgers that are designed to actually taste like and have the texture of real beef. They also make imitation chicken, if that's what you're after. Beyond Meat already had big names like Bill Gates backing them, but now they are getting some expertise from a guy with golden arches experience. The company recently announced that Don Thompson, the former CEO of McDonald's, is joining the company's board.

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Beyond Meat creates plant-based protein-rich products that aim to stand in for—and up to—meat products. Their substitutes for burgers, ground beef and chicken are also marketed as eco-friendly, healthy, and positive for animal welfare. Ultimately, the company says, the idea is to reduce meat intake for a healthier planet, and achieve a 25 percent reduction in meat consumption globally by 2020.

That seems like a tall order, but if they're hoping to do it, they'd want a person with Thompson's experience on their side. Thompson is a nearly 25-year McDonald's veteran, and served as the company's CEO for two and a half years until this past March, when he was ousted after months of slumping sales in an industry hit from all sides by changing consumer preferences and fast-casual dining. According to its website, McDonald's operates more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries, serving roughly 69 million customers every day.

Vegan burger. Photo courtesy of Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat's beef-free burger. Photo courtesy of Beyond Meat

That's a whole lotta beef, and those numbers are the kind of action Beyond Meat would need to reach their goal. Currently, Beyond Meat products are sold in about 7,500 stores nationwide, including major chains such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Publix, Vons, and Safeway. It's possible that Beyond Meat is also eyeing fast-food menus to shill its products. (Reached out to for comment, Beyond Meat didn't respond by press time.)

"More and more, every day, the traditional favorites of beef, fowl, and fish are being augmented with additional plant protein sources to satisfy this new taste demand," Thompson said in a carefully worded press release. "Ethan and the team at Beyond Meat have proven that you can actually have great taste and high quality with plant based proteins —even in a burger!"

Moving from McDonald's to the board of a small tech-heavy meat-alternative startup is a big change.

McDonald's has been criticized in the past for the quality of its beef, though this year it launched an initiative to source some of its beef from sustainable sources starting next year. Thompson is under a two-year non-compete obligation with McDonald's, though McDonald's told the AP that his work with Beyond Meat is in the clear. Thompson still serves as a consultant for McDonald's, earning $3 million a year.

McDonald's has over 100 items on its massive menu, but one thing it doesn't have? A veggie burger.