QSR Magazine: For McDonald’s, a Simple Menu May Be Better—But There’s a Long Road Ahead
QSR Magazine: For McDonald’s, a Simple Menu May Be Better—But There’s a Long Road Ahead

At issue for McDonald’s is convincing consumers that they’re totally in-tune with the growing consumer cry for food that’s healthier.

McDonald’s is hardly done simplifying its food ingredients.

But the path to simple is complex.

The rest of the fast-food industry—most of whom are walking a parallel path—seems to be wondering: What’s next?

“We’re considering everything that our customers are asking us to do,” says Jessica Foust, director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s. “Right now, we’re focused on eliminating artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.”

Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced that it had removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets. (It had previously removed artificial colors and flavors.) It is also removing the artificial preservatives from breakfast sausage patties and egg products. It’s removing high-fructose corn syrup from buns. It’s switched to butter instead of liquid margarine for cooking. And it’s one year ahead on its commitment to only serve chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.

At issue for McDonald’s and the rest of the quick-service industry is convincing consumers that they’re totally in-tune with the growing consumer cry for food that’s healthier, more natural, and free of everything artificial. This isn’t just important to Millennials, but increasingly to their parents and even grandparents.

“There is no ‘Option B’ here,” says Kate Newlin, a brand adviser and founder of Kate Newlin Consultants. “The market for cheap, nasty, and soulless food has declined. McDonald’s has no choice.”

Expectations have changed across the food industry so it’s no surprise that consumers are also raising the bar for fast food.

“Perhaps it’s come down to the fact that we’re demanding of fast food what we demand from our grocery store choices: ingredients we understand,” says branding wizard Erika Napoletano.

McDonald’s says it’s simply responding to new demands from customers. McDonald’s customers—and what they want to eat—have changed, Foust says. As a result the company is listening more than ever, he adds.

McDonald’s is hardly the first. Some very familiar names in fast casual, from Panera to Chipotle to Shake Shack, are light-years ahead of McDonald’s in this better-for-you arena. But just how important is it for the rest of fast food to follow McDonald’s lead?

“When fast-food restaurants can show that they understand that money shouldn’t limit access to healthy food, they just might find that they’re breeding a whole new level of brand-loyal customer,” Napoletano says.

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