Commentary

Fresh Meat Quarter Pounders Are On The Menu At 3,500 McDonald's

McDonald’s says its 100% fresh beef quarter-pound burgers — absolutely devoid of “fillers, additives or preservatives” — are now available in approximately 3,500 restaurants in eight markets and will be just about everywhere across the continental U.S. in 14,000 locations by May.

“The switch to fresh beef quarter-pound burgers is the most significant change to our system and restaurant operations since All Day Breakfast,” claims McDonald’s USA president Chris Kempczinski. The release also informs us that this is just one of the “customer-led initiatives in the U.S.” including ”committing to only sourcing cage-free eggs by 2025 in the U.S. and serving chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine” (with a footnote that farmers still use ionophores, a class of antibiotics that are not prescribed to people, to keep chickens healthy). 

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In other words, “all-day breakfast, fewer preservatives, and the addition of espresso drinks and kale to the menu over the past few years have all shown McDonald’s knack for market research,” observes Quartz’ Annaliese Griffin. 

“Such changes also confirm that Americans want to eat Egg McMuffins in the afternoon, are willing to spend $4 on a cup of coffee with caramel syrup on top, and like the idea of vegetables so long as they’re smothered in some sort of sweet, vaguely Asian sauce. But what do we learn from the monumental effort that McDonald’s has just spent re-fitting 14,000 restaurants to handle raw meat? We want McDonald’s to be more like Shake Shack, just without the lines,” Griffin continues.

“At first, at least, the introduction may hurt competitors like Wendy's or Burger King as patrons head to McDonald's to try out the new patties, especially with what's expected to be a heavy dose of marketing,” reports Jessica Wohl for Ad Age.

“‘We will go big against the rollout of this,’ Kempczinksi said of ad plans for May, without discussing the details of the marketing for fresh beef.” He was speaking at a press event at a McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., where Wohl got a chance to sample the goods and conclude that “the patties taste noticeably fresher and juicier than regular McDonald's patties yet have the size and consistency customers have come to expect from the chain.” 

The Miami Herald’s Carlos Frias also found the burger juicier when he bit into one at the Little Havana McDonald’s yesterday. He was also enraptured by the process: “The marbled, rosy meat, seasoned only with salt and pepper, hits the flat top grill with the sound of summer rainstorm. Because they’re not frozen, the burgers come up to temperature quicker, and they develop a charred crust in the 64 seconds they spend on the heat.”

Business Insider's Kate Taylor also attests that the new offering is “hotter, juicier” while pointing out those 64 seconds are so key to its vitality. In fact, that’s about 20 to 40 seconds faster than it takes a frozen burger to heat up.

“Radically changing the McDonald's burger took years of behind-the-scenes efforts, including addressing issues with the supply chain, food safety, and employee training. And, the chain can't afford to lose a second on speed,” Taylor writes.

“Most of the boutique burger places? You're going to have to wait,” Joe Jasper, a McDonald's franchisee who ran the early tests of the burger, tells Taylor. “What we wanted to make sure [was that we could] keep the drive-thrus open,” Jasper continued. “And we've been able to crack that code.”

The Brits, as it their wont, are more reserved. “McDonald's UK business said: ‘We will watch what happens in the U.S. and see if this innovation is something we should consider in the U.K,’” reports the BBC.

Indeed, “fresh beef may not be a silver bullet for McDonald's, however. Analysts in the last week have worried that the company may be cannibalizing its own sales with the number of promotions it has been launching,” cautions CNBC’s Sarah Whitten.

“Last Friday, David Palmer of RBC Capital Markets said that McDonald's new Dollar Menu could pull customers away from its popular breakfast foods. He also said that he thinks the new Dollar Menu doesn't have a ‘hero’ item on it, something that will woo diners to McDonald's over other fast food options.”

But “fresh in the mind of the consumer really has a better-for-you connotation,” David Henkes, a senior principal at Technomic, tells the AP’s Joseph Pisani and Teresa Crawford. “It certainly has a perception that it’s better than frozen.”

And if perception really isn’t everything, it keeps the roof over many a marketer’s head.

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