McDonald's Plans to Debut 'Cleaner' Chicken McNuggets

Chain Could Roll Out New Recipe Nationwide in Advance of Summer Olympics

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A Portland franchisee's Facebook image promotes 'a simpler recipe and no artificial preservatives that parents can feel good about.'
A Portland franchisee's Facebook image promotes 'a simpler recipe and no artificial preservatives that parents can feel good about.' Credit: McDonald's

McDonald's is testing a new cleaner-label version of its Chicken McNuggets it hopes to expand nationwide in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The test, which launched in early March in about 140 McDonald's restaurants in southwest Washington state and metropolitan Portland, Ore., features a revamped nugget made with what the chain says is a "simpler recipe" that does away with artificial preservatives. The new recipe contains ingredients McDonald's says are more recognizable to consumers, such as lemon juice solids and rice starch.

McDonald's declined to provide the full list of ingredients for the overhauled McNuggets. The current recipe listed on the McDonald's website contains 32 individual ingredients, a figure that includes the oil in which the product is fried.

The company is positioning its new and improved Happy Meal main course as family friendly, saying they "are made with a simpler recipe that parents can feel good about while keeping the same great taste they know and love." A Portland franchisee's Facebook page features imaging to support that theme, with pictures of smiling children and a child feeding a nugget to an adult.

Worth noting, in an Australian spot last week set to the Meatloaf classic "Anything for Love" a Dad turns down his daughter's chicken nugget in favor a chicken sandwich with "new grown-up" and presumably healthier ingredients.

Promotion highlighting McDonald's natural nuggets.
Promotion highlighting McDonald's natural nuggets. Credit: McDonald's

New packaging and in-store and social media advertisements also spotlight that the new recipe does not include any artificial colors or flavors, even though the current McNugget recipe does not use such ingredients.

Three sources familiar with the Oak Brook-based company's plans say it is preparing for a nationwide rollout of the so-called "clean-label" McNuggets just prior to the start of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5.

Becca Hary, a McDonald's spokeswoman, declined to confirm the product is slated for a national roll out this summer. "This is very much a test," she said. Ms. Hary also said customers in the Pacific Northwest test market "have responded favorably" to the new recipe, noting, "More than ever, customers care about where their food comes from and how it is prepared." Still, she said, "We're not making any announcement."

The Olympics, a 16-day event that still ranks as one of the biggest TV events of the year, offer McDonald's a sizable platform to communicate with consumers, particularly this year as the company seeks to continue momentum of a turnaround led CEO Steve Easterbrook and U.S. President Mike Andres.

Since taking over as CEO just more than a year ago, Mr. Easterbrook has vowed to simplify some of the chain's recipes in response to consumer demands. So far, he and Andres have taken aim at its popular Egg McMuffins by bringing back an old English muffin recipe and ditching margarine for butter. The chain has also simplified a grilled chicken recipe to remove ingredients consumers may not recognize, dropping to 12 ingredients from 18.

McDonald's also this week issued a request for proposals to three major holding companies to find a single creative agency to work on its massive U.S. business. The chain currently has Omnicom's DDB and Publicis' Leo Burnett handling the bulk of its national advertising. Both Omnicom and Publicis are part of the RFP process that began Monday, along with WPP.

Peter Frost is a reporter for Crain's Chicago Business, Ad Age's sibling publication. This article has additional reporting by Ad Age.

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