- Following its summer rollout of fresh beef Quarter Pounders, McDonald's is trying a new premium menu item: made-to-order chicken tenders and sandwiches. The fast food giant is currently testing customizable all-white meat items — the Ultimate Chicken Sandwich and Ultimate Chicken Tenders — in more than 160 Washington, restaurants according to a company release.
- Customers can order these items with the company's new seasoning blend or with a spicy honey barbeque glaze. This system deviates from the chain's production of standard chicken tenders and the Crispy Buttermilk Sandwich, which are cooked in batches.
- A McDonald's spokeswoman told Nation's Restaurant News that this was only a test and the company would not speculate on the future of the items and whether it would expand to other locations.
With this latest offering of made-to-order chicken items, McDonald's continues to double down on innovations and quality since CEO Steve Easterbrook took the helm. The world's largest fast food chain rolled out all-day breakfast in 2015, added a line of specialty burgers and table service, removed artificial flavors from many of its burgers and changed the Quarter Pounder to fresh, not frozen, beef. And just yesterday, the company debuted its first new breakfast sandwich in five years.
Knowing consumers want higher quality food, Easterbrook has focused on altering public perception of inexpensive, convenient meals into one of consistency and taste. Fresh beef is a start, but it's currently offered only for the Quarter Pounder. New breakfast items could also help, but the new sandwich triples the meat content without switching up much else. Chicken, however, could lead to a profitable future.
As concern about America’s world-leading rates of beef consumption grows for both health and environmental reasons, chicken has taken center stage. The main white meat leads meat consumption in the U.S. at roughly 92 pounds per person annually, compared with 56 pounds of beef and 51 pounds of pork. That is good reason for why McDonald's is looking to become a go-to chicken destination, as reported by Bloomberg in February.
While plans to expand the offerings across the country are still to be determined, the Washington state test fits comfortably within McDonald's "Better Chicken" strategy shared with franchisees earlier this year. Chicken — especially antibiotic-free chicken — catches a higher price tag for the restaurant and the consumer. Of the 50 largest quick service chains, Chick-fil-A records the highest average annual sales per unit at $4.4 million, compared with No. 5 McDonald's $2.5 million, according to QSR Magazine. Whataburger sits just above McDonald's and just below Culver's.
McDonald's revealed its plan to secure a fully antibiotic-free chicken supply by 2027 globally, though certain countries have already neared that metric. Meanwhile, chicken processors from Tyson to Perdue and chains from Chipotle to Taco Bell have committed to cutting antibiotics, but the results of those promises have yet to be fully realized.
Made-to-order items could add another in-demand twist to McDonald's revamped chicken offerings, which have surpassed its beef sales. Consumers might be willing to spend an extra buck on chicken hot out of the fryer versus one limping under a heat lamp.