A 7-year-old boy in Tauranga is calling on a fast-food giant to add vegetarian burgers to its New Zealand menu “so kids like me can enjoy McDonald’s”.
Toyesh Saraswat said he went to India on holiday recently and saw there were “lots of vegetarian options available there”.
Toyesh, who has been a vegetarian his whole life, wrote to McDonald’s requesting vegetarian options be made available in New Zealand stores.
“It makes me sad when all my friends enjoy [a] Happy Meal and all I can have is fries and [an] apple pie,” he wrote in the email.
McDonald’s said it offered customers the ability to add and remove items from burgers, “which suits some requirements”.
McDonald’s also added a new standard “salad burger” to its menu last week, and was continuing to assess “other new products to suit the different preferences of our customers”.
A salad burger has tomato, lettuce, onion, cheese, pickles and sauce, its website says.
Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times outside McDonald’s Tauranga, Toyesh said he wrote to McDonald’s in August after he went there with his basketball team, who all ordered Happy Meals.
Toyesh said he also wanted a Happy Meal – but with a vegetarian burger.
“Then I can enjoy with my friends.”
The McDonald’s India menu online shows it offers several vegetarian burgers, including a “veg surprise” burger, a McAloo Tikki burger – which has a vegetarian patty with peas and potato – a McSpicy Paneer and a McVeggie burger.
Toyesh said his “favourite” was a Veg Maharaja Mac, which has two corn and cheese patties with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese.
His email to McDonald’s said he was a vegetarian who would “love to come to McDonald’s and eat [a burger] with my friends”.
“But there [are] no vegetarian or vegan options available for me,” he wrote.
“I would like to request [for] you to please make vegetarian options available in your stores in New Zealand so kids like me can enjoy McDonald’s.”
He said he had emailed McDonald’s three times but had not received a response.
He said he had tried the vegetarian chicken burger at Burger King, which he liked. However, his favourite fast-food joint was Subway, “because you can put whatever you want on it”.
Toyesh’s mother Chanchal Saraswat said she wanted her children to enjoy a “good decent meal” at McDonald’s because it was one of the biggest chains available.
“If you hit the road, McDonald’s is the first thing you come across, and if my kids are not able to enjoy McDonald’s… it is sad.
“I stand here for all the people who are vegetarian, vegan and have dietary requirements, because these big chains should think about a variety of people.”
McDonald’s spokesman Simon Kenny said unfortunately it seemed there was an issue where communications from Chanchal and Toyesh were not received by McDonald’s.
He said McDonald’s would reach out to them to discuss their questions now it had their contact details.
Kenny said there were “a few challenges and dynamics” it had to consider with regard to vegetarian options at McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand, including customer demand and restaurant capacity.
“The most popular burgers at Macca’s in New Zealand are cheeseburgers [and the] Big Mac, McChicken, Quarter-Pounder and Filet-o-Fish.
“We do offer limited-time burgers, but generally, Macca’s customers go back to their favourites.”
Kenny said the most common items added to burgers were more patties and bacon.
“In order to provide the most popular menu items freshly made and at the speed customers expect, our kitchens are optimised to those products.
“At the volumes at which we operate, there is also limited space to store, prepare and hold new or limited-time ingredients.”
Kenny said food safety and cross-contamination could also be an issue.
For example, grills and some of the oil in their vats were used to cook meat products, which presented challenges for vegetarian products, he said.
“Other McDonald’s markets operate with different customer preferences and requirements, which is why you see certain products available around the world.
“We do offer customers the ability to add and remove items from burgers, which suits some requirements.”
Kenny said individual restaurants would often look to accommodate requests “within reason”.
A Wendy’s spokesperson said it offered vegetarian options, including a “salad burger”, a side salad and baked potatoes.
”We don’t currently have a meatless patty option on our menu, but we’re continuously innovating and exploring new product options.”
Burger King was also approached for comment.
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.