McDonald’s menu makeover continues, and its Chicken McNuggets are now free of preservatives, the fast food giant announced this week. The more healthful McNugget, promised earlier this year, comes with several other changes to McDonald’s menu items that helped make the company the world’s largest restaurant chain. But those same products are spurned by many younger consumers, who prefer what they see as more healthful options at chains such as the bakery cafe Panera Bread, fresh-Mex Chipotle and salad purveyor Sweetgreen.
McDonald’s responded to these trends by trying to pitch more healthful alternatives. The company piloted a kale salad in Canada, which looked fine until nutritionists noted that, with the dressing, it had more calories than a Big Mac. An organic hamburger had a test-marketing run in Germany, but it never left that country’s borders. McDonald’s touched upon issues that are increasingly important to consumers, such as a living wage and the impact its supply chain has on deforestation, yet those efforts have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile a bevy of smaller chains, from cult favorites such as Five Guys and In-N-Out to upstarts like Shake Shack and Habit Burger Grill, continue to expand. And now local joints, in cities from Chicago to Santa Cruz, keep opening and peeling off more customers from the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King.
And now these huge menus at fast-food chains, which include chicken options, have caused these companies and their suppliers more headaches. McDonald’s and its competitors started to add chicken to their menu options 30 years ago in order to offer a “healthy” alternative to beef. But the debate over the nutrition of these options has shifted. Consumers, for the most part, frankly do not care when they bite into such an indulgence. But they do want to make sure their burger and sides have been sourced responsibly and that their workers are making a decent wage.
Reinventing the burger is key to McDonald’s relevance if it hopes to hang onto its current customers while enticing skeptics. After years of sluggish sales figures, and even restaurant closures, the company made a comeback this past year. That recovery in both sales and stock price is largely due to its new all-day breakfast menu. But as Bloomberg noted, the enthusiasm over that 6 p.m. Egg McMuffin has cooled as same-store sales the past quarter increased less than 2 percent.
McDonald’s is betting a menu that “continues to evolve” can help the company course-correct. As far as the eggs and meat products on its breakfast menu, the company says they are also now free of artificial preservatives. The buns used on its iconic sandwiches, from Big Macs to Filet-O-Fish, will no longer contain high fructose corn syrup. And speaking of chicken, McDonald’s claims its pledge to rid all chicken products of antibiotics has been accomplished a year ahead of schedule.
This creates a difficult balance for McDonald’s, as it asks its franchisees to take on more costs while it seeks those coveted millennial consumers who, so far, are not “lovin’ it.”
Image credit: Greg Glidden