McDonald’s Corp. is expanding its fresh beef test to 75 locations in the Tulsa, Okla., area, as the burger giant takes increasingly aggressive steps to improve its reputation.
The 75 locations will now get quarter pound burgers made with fresh beef cooked when ordered, including the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Quarter Pounder Deluxe and Bacon Clubhouse Burger.
“These burgers are hotter and juicer than our previous quarter pound patties and are made with fresh, 100-percent North American beef that’s simply seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper,” McDonald’s chef Chad Schafer said in a statement.
The company started testing fresh beef patties at restaurants in the Dallas market earlier this year. The expansion of that test suggests McDonald’s is getting more serious about the strategy.
McDonald’s is working to burnish its quality credentials as it seeks to reverse a traffic slump dating back years amid intense competition from convenience stores and fast-casual chains.
McDonald’s routinely finishes last in various customer surveys about quality. In Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual Consumer Picks survey this year, for instance, McDonald’s finished 110th out of 112 quick-service chains.
The company is intent on changing that under CEO Steve Easterbrook. The chain removed antibiotics from its chicken and started using cage-free eggs. It expanded all-day breakfast, which gets high marks from customers. It’s planning a promotion next year offering different sizes of Big Mac and is testing Big Macs made with Sriracha sauce.
McDonald’s removed high fructose corn syrup from its buns and switched to using butter instead of margarine. In addition, McDonald’s is offering a menu of customizable sandwiches at an expanded number of locations, called TasteCrafted.
Fresh beef would be a significant change for a chain that has been primarily designed around cooking flash-frozen beef patties that are pre-made and then held in warming bins to be used on demand.
Preparing fresh beef patties to order could improve the flavor of the burgers while also giving McDonald’s a way to market its quality improvement.
“These new fresh beef Quarter Pounder burgers are one of the ways McDonald’s is continuing to test updates to our menu and focus on quality preparation,” Lance Richards, vice president of menu strategy for McDonald’s, said in a statement.
Yet the switch would be a dramatic change for the chain’s operators that would have to adapt to cooking patties to order. And it could be a major change for a supply chain that currently delivers frozen beef patties to 14,000 U.S. restaurants.
Doing so could risk the speed so important to the chain, especially the 70 percent of customers who go through the drive thru. It could also increase complexity, and only some of its burgers — and not its iconic Big Mac — will be made with fresh beef.
There’s also some concern this move to fresh beef could put the company at a greater risk of a foodborne illness outbreak, though numerous other chains like rival Wendy’s have long used fresh beef.
And Wendy’s, like McDonald’s, gets much of its business through the drive thru.
Wendy’s, for its part, has been highlighting its use of fresh beef in videos in recent weeks.
Photo courtesy of McDonald's