US: McDonald’s puts fresh beef on the menu

The burger giant is swapping frozen beef patties for fresh ones in bid to please customers who want less-processed food, and will be implemented by May.

The move will make supplying some 14,000 US restaurants more complicated at a time when McDonald’s is also trying to position itself as the go-to chain for cheap breakfasts and sandwiches.

In January, McDonald’s said changes to its value menu helped boost same-store traffic in 2017 for the first time in five years.

McDonald’s is facing increasing competition from fast-casual chains such as Shake Shack and Smashburger Master that have gained ground among customers willing to pay more for meals they see as higher quality. For the past two years, the fast-food giant has been working to win back fans of its most well-known products.

“At the end of the day McDonald’s is a burger company, and there’s no more important place for us to focus on improving the quality of our food,” said McDonald’s USA President Chris Kempczinski.

That renewed focus on the burger comes after mixed success generating sales from other menu changes. Selling breakfast items like the Sausage McMuffin all day has been popular, and McDonald’s says its customers have also embraced the removal of artificial preservatives from chicken nuggets and breakfast items made from cage-free eggs.

Other changes have been less successful, like different iterations of healthier wraps and salads that failed to gain traction. Competitors brought the focus back to burgers. Wendy’s, for instance, advertised the fresh beef it used to make its patties.

Since 1973, McDonald’s has made its Quarter Pounder burgers from frozen patties, part of its wider strategy throughout that time to prioritise reliable, clean meals that could be prepared in minutes.

Today, customers also expect flavours and ingredients that reflect contemporary tastes and trends, said US head of US menu Linda VanGosen. McDonald’s will also use the fresh, cooked-to-order patties on its “signature” burgers that feature sauces like garlic white cheddar and “artisanal” buns.

“We will have recipes that do these patties justice,” VanGosen said.

Franchisees are purchasing new refrigerators and containers to store the fresh patties and tweaking cooking lines to isolate raw beef from other ingredients. It is up to them whether to charge more for the fresh-beef burgers.

McDonald’s says the more complicated logistics and new equipment is worth it to sell burgers that stand up to those made by fast-casual competitors without sacrificing the consistency and speed McDonald’s customers expect.

“Most of the boutique burger places you’re going to have to wait,” said Joe Jasper, a McDonald’s franchisee who helped test the new burgers at his 20 restaurants around Fort Worth, Texas. “We can’t let our drive-through slow down. We’ve been able to crack that code.”

Source: Wall Street Journal