Business

How McDonald's Is Changing Its Food: One Small Tweak At A Time

The burger chain is making minor but necessary updates to its food to make its menu more appealing. But few think it will be enough to reverse sliding sales.

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Shortly after becoming CEO at McDonald's, Steve Easterbrook told investors, "We intend to make meaningful impact with customers and how they perceive our brand and our food." Yet little was said about what, exactly, Easterbrook had in mind beyond the broadly described goal of being a "modern, progressive burger company."

In the months since, clues about what McDonald's executives are planning have slowly surfaced. So far, the strategy taking shape seems to involve making minor adjustments to the existing menu—focusing on aspects of food quality and preparation, as well as price—rather than undertaking a major overhaul.

The changes reflect Easterbrook's intentions to be more nimble with changes, and "move fast with what works and even faster from what doesn't."

Some onlookers see the approach as the right one for the burger giant. "Small menu tweaks and promotions are indicative of the kind of turnaround plan they need," said restaurant consultant Aaron Allen.

First, as BuzzFeed News reported in May, the chain has announced plans to toast its buns five seconds longer to make its sandwiches hotter.

Last week, an internal document revealed it would beef up its quarter pounder to weigh a quarter pound (4 ounces) after cooking, a significant bump up from the current 2.8-ounce cooked patty, according to CNBC. The changes seem to an effort to compete with other "better-burger" chains like Shake Shack and Five Guys that have been stealing customers.

And in terms of value, McDonald's is testing "Mini Meals," which offer lower-cost, sized-down combos with a small drink and fries that cost from $2.99 to $3.99, depending on which burger you choose. These combos offer higher margins, according to Burgerbusiness.com, and for consumers, aside from being cheaper the sized-down meals contain fewer calories — from 520 to 820.

The chain is also offering a double cheeseburger and small fries for $2.50.

Save the date... And some money while you’re at it.

The company announced this month that kids-meal orders shifted from sodas to juice and milk over the last year, following the chain's removal of soft drinks from Happy Meal menu boards. While 56% of customers ordered a soda with their Happy Meal prior to the changes, 48% do today.

"We're always innovating around McDonald's food, drinks, and restaurant experience based on customers' preferences, and that includes hotter food and reviewing cooking procedures," spokesperson Lisa McComb said in an email.

It seems unlikely that such changes alone will turn around the company's sliding sales in the short term — and such numbers will become less visible when the company goes through with its plan to stop reporting monthly results after July. Allen said based on what he's seen, "McDonald's isn't doing nearly enough to reverse deep problems with their public perception."

"No one will complain about getting a juicer burger, or a better bun. The question is though, will it be enough to win back customers lost to other better-burger companies," said Allen, who believes there needs to be a greater focus instead on improving McDonald's speed of service, which may be hampered by all these small changes.

"Sure, the quality and nutrition needs to go way up — along with a hundred other things," he said. But, more importantly, "you can never make it too fast or too convenient for consumers."

Venessa Wong is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Wong covers the food industry.

Contact Venessa Wong at venessa.wong@buzzfeed.com.

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