As BurgerBusiness.com reported last week, McDonald’s has removed its Angus Third Pounders. As this site also reported, new Quarter Pounder burgers will fill the void. In an exclusive interview with BurgerBusiness.com today, Greg Watson, SVP of McDonald’s USA’s Menu Innovation Team, detailed the plan, which involves converting two of the 5.33-oz.-patty Angus builds to 4-oz.-patty Quarter Pounders while also creating a new third QP (the Habanero Ranch). All three of the new Quarter Pounders were tested last fall in California. McDonald’s also is introducing a new thick-cut bacon for these and other items. An edited transcript of the conversation follows:
Can you explain the company’s thinking in removing Angus Third Pounders?
Greg Watson: Really, this is about the Quarter Pounder brand. We are bringing news to our core menu items and this is one of them. We think we have a way to bring great burger news to a brand that has been around for over 40 years [introduced nationally in 1972].
That’s why we’re taking some of the more popular recipes from the Angus line and bringing them over under the Quarter Pounder brand. That’s why we’re taking Angus out of the restaurants.
There were three Angus varieties. Will there be three new Quarter Pounder recipes?
There will be three new Quarter Pounder varieties but with a bit of a difference. We’re going to take most popular builds from the Angus line—the Deluxe [American cheese, tomato, fresh leaf lettuce, red onion, crinkle-cut pickles, mayo and mustard] and the Bacon & Cheese [American cheese, bacon, red onion, crinkle-cut pickles, ketchup and mustard]—and put them on the Quarter Pounder brand. We’ll create a third, new flavor—Habanero Ranch [with white Cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and habanero ranch sauce when tested]—that will round out the entire Quarter Pounder line. The three new flavors will be served on bakery-style buns.
McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson speaks often of your global pantry of menu ideas that travel well from market to market. Why not import totally new menu ideas to the American menu rather than enhance an existing core product?
We are leveraging our global pipeline quite a bit. Thus the successful introduction of the Premium McWrap that is in restaurants now. What we’re finding with the Quarter Pounder is that there already is a great love for the brand and this is a relatively easy way for us to bring more customers to it.
Are the new Quarter Pounders permanent menu items or limited-time only (LTO) offers?
These will all be permanent additions.
When was the last time McDonald’s added a new Quarter Pounder?
That’s just the point. We haven’t touched the Quarter Pounder since its inception 40 years ago. We think this is a great way to bring new news to the brand.
How soon will the new Quarter Pounders be on the menu?
They will show up in late May or early June. I want to add that we are bringing a great new bacon into our restaurants. It’s new thick-cut, applewood-smoked bacon that will be on a couple of the Quarter Pounder builds [Bacon & Cheese and Habanero Ranch], which makes for a great eating experience.
This thick-cut bacon is not currently used on any item?
No, it’s not. It’s rolling into our restaurants any day now.
Will it appear on other products as well, such as breakfast and entrées?
It will be added to all our items that currently have bacon.
How much was the decision to enhance Quarter Pounders at the expense of Angus burgers based on a need to have more mid-price menu items?
Price really wasn’t a factor in the decision. We believe that we have a hit on our hands by taking this great Quarter Pounder icon and bringing news to it. And let me emphasize that we are not touching the original Quarter Pounder and Quarter Pounder with Cheese. They will stay just as they are.
Is this the first time McDonald’s has offered habanero on the menu?
No. We’ve had habanero in LTO dipping sauces. We find that customers really like that flavor profile so we’re bringing it to the menu permanently.
We’ll see national advertising support behind the new Quarter Pounders, I assume.
Yes, advertising will begin in mid June.
You’ve added a number of items in the past year, including McWrap, Egg White Delight, Chicken and Fish McBites and so on. Were you at a point where you thought the menu was getting too large for crew to handle or consumers to choose from?
We have added quite a few items to the menu but we’ve also removed a few items. We’re always making sure we’re doing the best for crew and customers. We know we can’t keep adding things infinitely without also taking things away.
Are there other items on the menu that you expect to remove this year?
There are a few items that we talk about and keep a close eye on. It depends on how they perform. And when we don’t feel we can sustain a quality experience we’ll remove them. It’s hard to identify in advance what those items are.
Might some of those items be on the breakfast menu?
It could be. I won’t say for sure. We’re looking at the entire menu, but I’ll point out that we are swapping out the Wild Berry Smoothie with the introduction of our Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie.
When you’re evaluating potential new menu items, I assume that taste is your top criterion. But how do you rank menu price, ease of execution and nutrition?
It’s a great question and I have to say they’re all important. We look at four key areas when we decide if a product is going to make it to our restaurants. First we want to be sure it’s going to please our customers; that’s certainly a major driver. And value is a part of that: We want customers to say that an item is a good value. We need it to be operationally friendly so that our crews will be able to give our customers a great experience. We also want to make sure we can supply the product: We work with our supply team so we can be sure we can keep the product in stock. Finally we look at the financials. We want to make sure it will be a profitable venture for our operators as well as the company.