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McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets Score a Natural Makeover

Words by Leon Kaye

Assumptions about the decline of McDonald’s may have been exaggerated as the fast food giant’s financial performance has recently improved, thanks largely to its new all-day breakfast menu. And when it comes to that Egg McMuffin, the company will remind you that those eggs are often cracked fresh, and the company is on a long-term quest to ensure that they are cage free.

But McDonald’s is still struggling with that millennial crowd, as products created with them in mind failed to sell and therefore have fallen off the menu. Other food creations were released with hype, only for consumers and nutritionists to find out that some items, such as a kale salad, had more calories than the venerable Big Mac.

That quest to attract consumers who want sustainable and responsible food, while not alienating its base — which enjoys far more options at which to nosh these days — has become a huge chicken-and-the-egg question bedeviling McDonald’s. But when it comes to the chicken side of the equation, the company says it is reformulating its infamous Chicken McNuggets in order to satisfy customers who want to know where their food comes from. Considering that the current recipe for McNuggets has over 30 ingredients, the fact McDonald’s has taken so long to change the recipe makes one wonder if the company's product-development team is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.

According to Crain’s, these new McNuggets could be launched nationwide before the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. The Olympics are a longstanding advertising staple for McDonald’s, so it seems logical to wait for a huge global platform to launch this new product. On the other hand, between the ongoing impeachment drama unfolding in Brazil, social strife due to the country’s recession and that much of Rio is still a mess, there is a huge risk that sponsors of this summer’s mega-event may get buyer’s remorse.

And as the case with Rio, information on these new McNuggets is still incomplete. The company has not released the exact ingredients in the new recipe, which is currently undergoing test marketing in some locations across the U.S. But a McDonald’s spokesperson confirmed that they will include ingredients with which consumers are familiar, including “lemon juice solids” and “rice starch.”

For McDonald’s purists, it is still likely that these morsels will include chicken skin and “marinade,” and rest assured, they will still be formed in those four distinct shapes. But for the more food-savvy crowd, McDonald’s approach to how it makes its food during these times is a head shaker. Oddly enough, the company describes that outer coating as “tempura batter,” the appearance and crunch of which alone prove that McNuggets are a planet away from a bento box. Furthermore, considering how many of these nuggets are sold every day, Jamie Oliver’s rather gross interpretation of how chicken nuggets are made is fairly accurate.

Whether these new chicken nuggets will help McDonald’s score more customers, or at least secure the ones they still have, remains to be seen. On other fronts, the company is still moving, albeit slowly, toward more sustainable beef sourcing; it says it is focused on freeing its supply chain of deforestation; and has even tested organic food in some of its markets. McDonald’s is also changing many of its restaurants so that food is made to order, and more of restaurant interiors are being remodeled. Whether these moves, along with the all-day breakfast menu, can continue to sustain the company are big questions as the company still has not convinced millennials -- the biggest marketing demographic in the U.S. -- to come even close to having McDonald’s on their radar.

Image credit: McDonald’s

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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