McDonald’s Sets Out To Become A ‘Credible Chicken Player’

By Dave Simpson
McDonald’s Sets Out To Become A ‘Credible Chicken Player’

Forget those old chicken patties. McDonald’s Corp. has a master plan to become the new chicken king.

Decades after adding chicken sandwiches to its menu, the Golden Arches has made becoming a “credible chicken player” one of its top priorities, according to internal McDonald’s documents reviewed by Bloomberg News.

The project’s code name: “Better Chicken.”

The push -- laid out in a letter to franchisees, who operate about 90% of U.S. locations -- aims to extend a three-year growth run by being more like Chick-fil-A Inc.

McDonald’s has already taken steps to elevate its poultry, which was long seen as a serviceable if uninspiring part of the menu. It’s vowed to stop serving chicken with antibiotics and removed artificial preservatives from nuggets. The chain also rolled out Southern-style sandwiches and tenders, which are coated in a crispy buttermilk breading similar to Chick-fil-A.

The idea now is to build on that push and establish McDonald’s as a top-tier chicken restaurant -- rather than just a burger joint.

“It’s definitely a transformational era for McDonald’s,” said Jason Moser, an analyst at Motley Fool. “Chicken is part of that.”

The stakes are high, especially as consumers eat more chicken than ever before. Last year, they consumed 92 pounds on average, compared with less than 57 pounds of beef, according to estimates from the Department of Agriculture. At the same time,  Tyson Foods Inc. and other chicken producers are investing in new processing plants, wagering that the meat will become an even bigger part of Americans’ diets.

Reducing Red Meat

Chicken has the aura of being healthier, which is helping drive the trend, Moser said. Many Americans are limiting the amount of red meat they consume, so McDonald’s traditional burger-heavy lineup may be less relevant.

“It would make sense to build a menu that has more chicken,” he said.

The “Better Chicken” effort may involve selling meat that tastes like it’s pressure-fried, according to the letter to franchisees. That technique is known for creating a crispy coating and juicy interior. It’s also an approach used by Chick-fil-A.

McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, declined to comment on the specifics of the letter. But adding new foods “is one of the many ways we are transforming the McDonald’s experience,” spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in an email. “We’re committed to generating even more excitement around the core menu items our customers love -- including our chicken offerings.”

Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s U.S. president, said last year that the company was re-evaluating both its burger and chicken offerings in a bid to improve quality. That includes everything “from the proteins that we use, to the equipment in our kitchens, to our cooking procedures.”

It’s not clear how far McDonald’s will tilt its menu toward poultry. Part of its “Better Chicken” push may hinge on the way food is marketed.

News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland