The fast-food world has been in a state of constant flux in recent years as brands struggle to play catch-up with the public demand for great transparency and more health-conscious options. Over the course of the last several weeks, McDonald’s announced plans to test both fresh, never-frozen beef patties and chicken nuggets without artificial additives at select locations.
According to a report from Nation’s Restaurant News on Monday, McDonald's is still the most-visited restaurant chain in America, though it has struggled to keep pace with market changes. Recent marketing ploys like all-day breakfast have reignited customer interest, but in many ways McDonald's has looked like a slow-moving behemoth compared to its smaller, more nimble competition.
Still, better late than never seems to be the prevailing sentiment for the Golden Arches. With large, multinational chains like Chipotle and Subway on the ropes—the former still rebounding from an E. coli outbreak, and the latter closing hundreds of locations around the U.S. last year—McDonald’s clearly sees an opportunity to target more health-conscious consumers. The use of fresh, never-frozen patties—currently being tested at 14 locations in the Dallas area—not only harkens back to the chain's roots, but also puts it more on par with new-school burger leaders like Shake Shack, Smashburger, and In-N-Out.
The company’s potential new ingredients are the latest developments in years of slow progress intended to offset bad press. In 2003, McDonald’s began using only white meat chicken in its McNuggets, and last year the chain announced it would also stop using "human" antibiotics. The company has gone to lengths over the years to dispel the idea that McNuggets are made from "pink slime" or "pink goop."
“These new Chicken McNuggets are made with a simpler recipe that parents can feel good about while keeping the same great taste they know and love,” McDonald’s told Eater in April, adding that its new preservative-free chicken had debuted at 140 locations in March. “The classic menu item is still made with 100% white meat chicken, no artificial flavors or colors and our signature seasonings and crispy breading.”
If McDonald’s wants to truly re-brand itself as a more health-conscious fast-food choice, it faces a long road ahead. Earlier this week, the company announced it would suspend its nutrition programs in schools after a Change.org petition garnered nearly 90,000 signatures last year.
McDonald’s testing fresh beef patties is a step toward winning those 90,000 angry customers back—albeit a relatively small one at the moment.
“Like all of our tests, this one too is designed to see what works and what doesn’t within our restaurants by considering the operational experience, customer response, price points and other important information,” a McDonald’s spokesperson said in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News. “We are on a journey to modernize our restaurants to deliver a more engaging, customized and relaxing customer experience.Tests like this can help inform our journey.”