Commentary

Artificial Ingredients Get A Lot Scarcer At Your Local McDonald's

Farewell sorbic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and calcium disodium. All McDonald’s seven classic hamburgers are now free of artificial ingredients in its roughly 14,000 U.S. locations.

“As of Wednesday, the world’s largest burger chain says classics like the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with Cheese are preservative-free, with reformulated buns and sauces,” the Associated Press reports in the Huntington (W.V.) Herald Dispatch.

“McDonald's has been gradually removing preservatives from its menu for several years in an effort to appeal to more health-conscious buyers. In 2016, it removed high-fructose corn syrup from its buns and took artificial preservatives out of its Chicken McNuggets,” the AP adds.

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The other “classic” burgers affected are the unbranded hamburger, cheeseburger and double cheeseburger, as well as the McDouble and the double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. 

The chain says that “nearly two-thirds” of its national burgers and sandwiches are now free of artificial preservatives, artificial flavors and added colors from artificial sources.

“Changes you can feel good about!” it crows in a tweet announcing yesterday’s news.

“The one-third of the menu not covered includes the Egg McMuffin, Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit, the Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddles, the Filet-O-Fish and several of the Signature Crafted sandwiches,” reports Nancy Luna for Nation’s Restaurant News.

McDonald’s USA President Chris Kempczinski “said there’s no specific timeline for reformulating those menu item,” Luna adds. “Like the fresh beef initiative, which only applies to the larger patties on the Quarter Pounder and Signature Crafted burgers, not the smaller ones on sandwiches such as the hamburger and the Big Mac, Kempczinski said big menu changes take time.”

McDonald’s improvements that lie ahead include “sustainably sourcing all McCafé coffee by 2020” and “transitioning to cage-free eggs in the U.S. and Canada by 2025,” Kempczinski told the press, Gwen Ihnat reports for The Takeout.

Indeed, these most recent “menu tweaks are part of what McDonald’s executives call a ‘journey’ in trying to change how people see the chain, which has long been painted as a villain of the fast-food industry,” writes Kate Taylor for Business Insider.

“We know quality choices are important to our customers, and this latest positive change to our classic burgers demonstrates our committed journey to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s,” Kempczinski told reporters yesterday. 

“Prices of menu items aren’t expected to go up as a result. The amount the company spent to make the switch was ‘minimal,’ so McDonald's plans to absorb the costs, explained Kempczinski, though ultimately, owner-operators determine pricing,” writes Zlati Meyer for USA Today.

“Fresh, natural ingredients are a focus at chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Panera Bread Co. As interest in more wholesome diets has spread, fast-food chains that have taken sales from McDonald’s in recent years have revisited their recipes too,” Julie Jargon observes for the Wall Street Journal.

“Chains including Yum Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell and Pizza Hut and Doctor’s Associates Inc.’s Subway have eliminated artificial ingredients from menu items. Wendy’s Co. has eliminated antibiotics also used on humans from its poultry and introduced salads made with fresh berries and tomatoes grown in greenhouses,” Jargon adds.

Still, she points out, McDonald’s “hasn’t shown its improved food can generate the sales growth that investors are expecting. U.S. same-store sales of 2.6% in the second quarter fell short of analyst forecasts of 3% growth.”

That’s not all that’s it’s doing to draw a new generation of customers, though.

“In addition to cutting artificial ingredients from food, McDonald’s has been remodeling restaurants, adding table service, and installing kiosks,” Business Insider’s Taylor reminds us.

Oh, if you’re a stickler for preservative-free, you might want to tell your amenable crew member to hold the pickles. They still contain some artificial ingredients.

“Customers are able to skip it, if they prefer,” McDonald’s Kempczinski points out. Or, you can always bring your own locally sourced fermented cucumber to add for that extra zing.

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