MCVEGGIE IS READY

New York -- A hamburger giant here has given birth to vegetarian offspring. 11 Manhattan restaurants. First introduced in four Greenwich Village units a few months ago, seven more restaurants were added at the end of August, including the Macy's Herald Square and Times Square locations. Currently, two franchises are involved in the rollout."We have worked closely with McDonald's on the rollout," said

New York -- A hamburger giant here has given birth to vegetarian offspring.

11 Manhattan restaurants. First introduced in four Greenwich Village units a few months ago, seven more restaurants were added at the end of August, including the Macy's Herald Square and Times Square locations. Currently, two franchises are involved in the rollout.

"We have worked closely with McDonald's on the rollout," said Jim Lewis, vice president of Lewis Foods. Lewis Foods, Riverside, Conn., owns nine restaurants in the Big Apple, seven of which now have the veggie burger.

Jim Lewis was the first to approach McDonald's and request a veggie burger for his Greenwich Village locations. "They were open-minded and said yes. It sold well, better than projected, so we wanted to test it in other locations," he said.

According to Lewis, McVeggie Burger is doing better than projections in all his locations and is finding mass acceptance. "It can actually attract a new brand of customer, as opposed to running out a different style hamburger," he said.

The McVeggie Burger is a soy pattie, made by the same company that produces the Harvest Burger for Green Giant, a division of Pillsbury, Minneapolis. Kees Touw, director of food service at Archer Daniels Midland, Decatur, Ill., said that the burger has a different formulation from that of the Harvest Burger. It is made with 11% fat (compared with 4.5% for the Harvest Burger) and has a "meaty" flavor, with a hint of barbecue. McDonald's cooks the burgers on a separate grill and uses no extra cooking fat.

The burger, seasoned only with ketchup and some raw onions, comes on a sesame seed bun. Also on the sandwich is lettuce and tomato. A McVeggie Meal, with French fries and a drink, costs $5.19 at Herald Square.

According to Touw, his company is working with individual franchises, as well as with McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., to get McVeggie Burger on the menu in other locales.

"We would like to see it in California, Florida and Chicago, so we can see some reasonable tests," Touw explained.

Dave Jenkins, vice president of National Eating Trends for the NPD Group, Rosemont, Ill., said that soy products still have a long way to go before they take the United States by storm, whether as meat or milk alternatives. "People are not going to buy into soy right away. The product is going to have to deliver taste. There are a lot of hurdles to jump before it becomes a boom market."

However, he noted that if McDonald's or another burger chain gets behind a soy burger, it could really take off. "If one of the chains gets it in a portion of their units, that would do more for retail sales than anything," he said.