Since October 4th, customers visiting any one of the five McDonald's restaurants in Tampere have been offered a vegan-friendly option: the McVegan. This new addition to the McDonald's menu is a trial aimed at vegan diners, and Tampere is the only place in the world where the burger is currently available.
The McVegan consists of a soy-based patty which is stored separately, fried separately and prepared separately - to ensure that it does not come into contact with any meat throughout the production process. It is then topped with mustard, ketchup, onion, lettuce, tomato and a specially-prepared eggless 'McFeast' sauce.
As the trial nears the halfway point, McDonald's restaurant manager Mikko Salminen is optimistic about the new product.
Tampere: Vegan Mecca?
"In my opinion, it is going to be very successful," says Salminen. "The feedback from customers has been really supportive, and people are coming to try it because it is new."
When the Tampere trial finishes in November, McDonald's will analyse the sales data before deciding if the McVegan gets to continue.
Salminen attributes the choice of Tampere as the location for the trial down to two factors; the size of the city and the diverse range of McDonald's franchises in the region.
"It's because we have several restaurants in a small area; there are drive-thru restaurants, out-of-town, and then also in the centre. So we can get wide feedback from different kinds of customers."
"The forefront of vegan culture"
According to Sari Komulainen, President of the Vegan Union of Finland, there is also a third possible explanation for the decision to try the vegan burger out in Tampere.
"Vegan culture in Tampere has been at the forefront of promoting veganism in Finland," said Komulainen. "We have had some really groundbreaking restaurants, shops, grocery stores in Tampere that have shown the way to what veganism can be; that it can be easy."
Komulainen says this trend is evident not just in Tampere, but across Finland, as people are choosing to buy more specialist vegan foods and products.
"People are interested in the health aspects of veganism as well as the environmental reasons, and the animal rights reasons," explained Komulainen. "And in that way it will become easier and easier to try vegan products and try this wonderful, happy, positive lifestyle."
Junk Food Vegans
Although a recent survey found that just one percent of respondents identified as vegan (with 90 percent saying they ate meat and three percent vegetarian), there has been an upsurge of meat-free dining options in recent years.
That shows in the increase in vegan options on restaurant menus, the availability of vegan products on the shelves of many stores, and through a rapidly-growing online vegan community.
Niina Laitinen, a youth worker from Tampere, has recently decided to make the switch to a vegan lifestyle and explains her reasons for making the decision,
"I was a meat eater, a real carnivore, but some years ago I became a little disappointed about my eating habits. I didn’t eat enough veggies, so I decided to try going vegan. I have felt that this way suits me. My body likes it. I am more awake, and it feels good in a personal way."
Laitinen believes it is getting much easier to be a vegan in Finland today, and communities such as the Facebook group ‘sipsikaljavegaanit’ (which can be literally translated as 'Crisps and beer vegans' but could be more roughly translated as ‘Junk Food Vegans’) help to spread information, tips and recipes for those new to veganism,
"I think that page is one of the reasons why I started to become a vegan, because I realised that I can eat well, and be a vegan. Actually I think I am making better foods at the moment than I ever did before."