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Innovation on the Menu for McDonald’s

McDonald’s is renewing its push to foster innovation as the way to build its QSR sales leadership in a slow-growth restaurant marketplace. The result of that push may be significant developments in food, store operations and technology.

CEO Don Thompson sees opportunities for bundled meal options like the multi-person Dinner Box program in Australia.

The focus on continued innovation was a recurring theme during the company’s two-day “Open Doors” event for journalists this week. BurgerBusiness.com was one of just two U.S. news organizations invited to take part.

Menu innovations will continue to be both developed and borrowed. The chain has successfully imported several ideas from its Australian operations, including McCafé and Chicken McBites, and may borrow more. CEO Don Thompson said he sees opportunity in the U.S. to sell the Dinner Box multi-person bundled-meal concept that has been a success in Australia and, subsequently, in several European markets as well.

Thompson wouldn’t say how soon the idea could be tried here but he emphasized that the concept responds to a changes in how people use QSRs. “There’s a trend in eating now to bundling,” he said. “It used to be you’d see teens eating meals separately. Now you’ll see them getting two or three fries and burgers for four or five and putting it all in the center to share.”

The 1955 Burger could be “Americanized” for a debut here.

Bundled meals are made for communal eating, and since 2010 McDonald’s in Australia has offered multi-person boxed meals. A Dinner Box could hold two Big Macs, two cheeseburgers and six Chicken McNuggets with four small fries plus two small and two medium drinks. A chicken version being promoted now offers two McChicken sandwiches, two Chicken & Mayo sandwiches, two small and two medium drinks, four small fries and 10 McBites. A variation is the Chicken Box concept with various combinations of fried chicken snack items (McNuggets, McBites, etc.), which has been tried in Europe and could work here, Thompson said.

Chris Young, senior director of menu innovation, said global menu items being eyed for the U.S. includes the 1955 Burger developed in Germany in 2010 and since served in most European markets. However, when it gets here it likely will have undergone changes, said Young. “This is a European vision of an American taste profile” and some Americans who have tasted it have found it “odd,” he said. The original is topped with caramelized onions and a German-style barbecue sauce. “It may not even be called the 1955 here,” he said, although the name alludes to the year Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Ill.

Thompson also said the chain hasn’t ruled out reintroducing Angus beef burgers or even bringing back Third Pound Angus Burgers as limited-time promotional items.

Don’t expect a turkey burger on the menu soon, however. Low acceptance of turkey outside the U.S. makes it a less-appealing choice for a global company like McDonald’s. But do expect bolder flavors, said Dan Coudreaut, executive chef and director of culinary innovation. The spicy sauce on the new Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder is literally a taste of what’s to come.  “Shaker Fries”—a small shaker bag with a packet of seasoning—also could brought here after success in Asia. Julia Braun, director of global nutrition, pointed to the 8 grams of whole grain in the new Egg White Delight McMuffin’s English muffin as an indicator of how McDonald’s is moving to increase the nutritional profile of its foods. More whole-grain foods will follow.

The Egg White Delight McMuffin’s lower cholesterol count with higher whole-grain content is a recent nutritional innovation.

Another Australian innovation that could be imported is the “TrackMyMaccas” smartphone app that BurgerBusiness.com wrote about in January, when it was introduced. The app allows diners to scan code on packaging and learn the sources (farm, fishery, bakery) of components of the food they are about to eat. This is by linking GPS with real-time supply-chain data. Ken Koziol, McDonald’s EVP, global restaurant officer, said the chain is “actively discussing” ways to use similar technology in other countries including the U.S. “We want to [bring it here], but we don’t know yet how or when,” Koziol said.

Before it would be implemented here, it likely would be evaluated at McDonald’s Innovation Center, a 38,000-square-foot building with three kitchens and 135 employees. The center is squirreled away in Romeoville, Ill., but operations teams from around the globe manage to find it to test new and big ideas. For example, over the course of two years, simulations at the Innovation Center helped the company learn how to configure kitchens and order counters to serve the 2,500 customers per hour expected at the mammoth 2012 Summer Olympics restaurant in London. Kitchen efficiency of the “McDonald’s After Midnight” late-night menu solution currently in a few markets was tested at the Innovation Center as well. “It allows us to make mistakes in a controlled environment,” COO Tim Fenton said of the Innovation Center. Or, as it was put by Melody Roberts, the Center’s senior director-experience design innovation, “No actual sales are harmed in the conducting of these tests.”

9 comments to Innovation on the Menu for McDonald’s

  • jean racine

    would you please bring back the arch with bacon burger back? you had it in the early 90′s. that burger was so great i could not get enough. thank you for reading

  • You might tell McDonald’s this, too.

  • Bill Grammer

    I went to a McDonalds today and ordered a number 2, expecting to get a Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and drink. Instead I get 2 cheeseburgers. This number change is the most idiotic thing you have done. For 30+ years a number 1 is a Big Mac and a number 2 to a Quarter Pounder with cheese. Every one knows this. Why infuriate everyone by changing the numbers?

  • I have heard quite a bit about the now debunked McPizza I have never had the opportunity to try it. It was only experimented in larger cities where tastes might be a bit different than in rural areas. Still would love to try it.

  • Diane Calcagno

    I had been frequent customer of McDonald’s until right after Chicken Selects were removed from the regular menu. I am hardly in the mood for your Big Mac or Quarter Pounders. I have tried chicken McNuggets and don’t care for those. I have tried your chicken sandwiches and don’t care for those. But, Chicken Selects are my favorites. I do have a few friends complaining about this, since Chicken Selects were the only menu item they are willing to eat. Please, bring them back!!! I miss the friendly works at Lindbergh and Linsay — I was missed by one employee there after I have not gone for at least a month. So, now, I have only been going once in awhile for Mango Pineapple smoothie. McDonald’s is my favorite fast food place. Don’t really care for the others — Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Burger King. Thank you for reading this.

  • William Shuba

    today, 9-18, is the one year anniversary of my suggestion to corp mcdonalds to offer the public a “Bigger Mac” ………..a double quarter pounder done up like a big mac……I still encourage you to make that sandwich and send me the royalties!

  • Kathy Scott

    My husband and I have recently retired and have just started traveling with our dogs–what a joy! As you can guess, we are dog lovers. While on the road, we look forward to stopping @ McDonalds. We buy a hamburger and take it apart to feed the dogs. They love McDonalds! Our suggestion is for McDonalds to sell a meal for all those people traveling with pets. Suggestions for names: “McDoggy Meal” or “Doggy Meal” (like “Happy Meal”) which would include the perfect food for dogs. Choices could be chicken or beef. Perhaps you could have a small or large portion to fit all dog sizes. Other cute names could be: McDoggets (chicken), McMuts (beef), Bow Wow Combination Meal (chicken/beef)…. MacDoggy Pak; McWoof or simply McCanine Meal….you could go on and on; there are lots of cute names. We believe this could be a lot of fun to market and would be a big hit!
    Thanks for allowing comments.

  • Maybe, but I can’t see any restaurant wanting to suggest it makes petfood.

  • Solomon Birch

    For the longest time I have always ordered the same thing at McDonalds, which I thought I had invented.

    A quarter pounder with a crispy chicken fillet and big mac sauce.

    More recently though, I’d discovered that a fair few other people have also independently “invented” this same burger, and that anyone who’s tried it doesn’t order anything else when they go to maccas.

    If someone from McDonalds is reading this, I know it seems a little strange and that’s a bit of a barrier to a market trying it. On the other hand there’s “strange” and there’s “novelty”. This is novel, and it will sell based on word of mouth.

    Put it on the menu so I can stop having to double check my burger when I order it to make sure that the person making it hasn’t stuffed it up by taking the beef off :)

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