Responding to consumer healthful-eating concerns around the world, McDonald’s is testing oven-baked chicken and fish in Australia and is vowing to voluntarily post calorie information on menu boards in its 1,200 United Kingdom stores.
The Oven Baked menu, launched this month in 44 restaurants in the state of South Australia, includes entrées, breakfast items and desserts not seen at McDonald’s elsewhere:
● Oven-baked Texas Chicken Skewers are sold as single skewers as a snack, in groups of three as an entree, or as part of an Extra Value Meal of three skewers with fries and a soft drink. The kebabs also can be added to the McDonald’s Dinner Box deal. According to sources, the skewers are priced at AU$1.95 (US$1.91) each or three for AU$4.95 (US$4.95).
● A Chicken Parmigiana Burger (an oven-baked marinated chicken patty) is sold a la carte or as part of an Extra Value Meal.
● That same oven-baked chicken patty is used for a Chicken Parmigiana Wrap or a half patty for a Parmigiana Snack Wrap .
● Star-shaped baked fish called, appropriately, Fish Bakes are sold in six-piece-packs like McNuggets with tartar sauce or in three- or six-piece Happy Meals.
● Baked breakfast items Maple McGriddles or Blueberry McGriddles (different from the U.S. version), both with Hotcake Syrup, are available separately or in a value meal with hash browns and coffee.
● A baked dessert called Baked Choc Pot, a molten lava cake, is accompanied by soft serve.
McDonald’s/Australia officials could not be reached for comment on the test and the baking equipment that obviously is required to execute it. McDonald’s/Australia Managing Director/CEO Catriona Noble made it clear that the chain sees baked items as a response to some consumers concerns about fried foods. “South Australia is doing a trial for a new cooking platform,” she told a recent McDonald’s operators meeting, according to Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser. “It’s a healthier way to cook.”
A recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Noble as saying, “When you look at our core menu, the things that people love about McDonald’s, I still think that we need to find ways to evolve our core menu where you don’t have to sacrifice taste for health.” She said it’s possible a lighter Big Mac could be developed a few years from now. Sources say the Oven Baked menu test is due to end on May 24, 2011. If it’s a hit in South Australia, it could be expanded.
Baking is ideal for many chicken and fish preparations, but less common at QSRs for beef (though Arby’s has been oven-roasting beef for decades, as one wise reader points out). However, rising beef costs and stable or declining chicken prices make this a good time to test new ways to serve chicken. Last year, McDonald’s Australia developed Chicken McBites, a crispier version of McNuggets. This month, McDonald’s recently added an upscale Grand Chicken Burger and breakfast items like the NYC Benedict Bagel and Boston Deli Bagel to its premium-price M Selections Menu.
In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, McDonald’s has committed to posting basic calorie information on menu boards this fall. “We’ve tested menu board labeling in 125 restaurants and the results show it’s a move that some of our customers would value. As a result we’ll be displaying them across our 1,200 restaurants from September,” announced Jill McDonald, the chain’s CEO for the UK and Northern Europe.
Pizza Hut and KFC are among other foodservice companies that have agreed to take part in the so-called Responsibility Deal developed by the British government to promote healthier lifestyles. That’s in line with the U.S., where restaurant chains with 20 or more locations will be required to provide nutrition information on menus in the near future as part of the Obama administration’s healthcare reform. Consumers are in favor of such programs: According to Mintel Menu Insights data, 61% of consumers say they would like to have calorie counts on menus.