McDonald’s has been on a roll with new menu items this year.
The quick-service giant kicked off 2011 with fruit and maple oatmeal officials say is outperforming expectations, and continued with frozen strawberry lemonade and a mango-pineapple Real Fruit Smoothie it plans to introduce this summer.
On Wednesday the Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain hosted a tasting event at a franchised McDonald’s outlet in New York to present to the press several of its new menu items.
Attendees got to sample McD’s newly formulated grilled chicken — served both on premium sandwiches and in the Asian Salad that’s running as an LTO this summer — together with the mango-pineapple smoothie and some new sauces for its Chicken McNuggets.
Nation’s Restaurant News took the opportunity to speak with McDonald’s senior director of culinary innovation Dan Coudreaut about the new items.
• Grilled chicken. Coudreaut said the grilled chicken was reformulated to give it “a more neutral flavor profile — mirepoix, salt and pepper, maybe a little garlic and herb.”
Mirepoix is a common French sauce base comprising sautéed carrot, onion and celery.
Coudreaut said the chicken previously had “more of an Italian profile.”
The Premium Chicken Sandwich also is served with a new bun, shaped round instead of oval, prepared with whole grain and topped with cracked wheat, he said.
• Salad. The chicken also is being used, grilled or fried, to top the Asian salad, which is a blend of salad greens, edamame, snow peas, red bell peppers, mandarin oranges, sliced toasted almonds and a low-fat sesame-ginger dressing.
Coudreaut said that salad was first introduced in 2008 and was then replaced by a Southwest salad.
He said developing a variety of salads “allows us to have a library of specials that we can bring back.”
Fruit, vegetables and whole grains have been front-and-center in McDonald’s recent menu development.
• McNuggets. Starting with the new McNuggets sauces, Coudreaut said the ranch dressing that had been available with Chicken Selects breast strips had been reformulated to have “more of a buttermilk flavor” and was now available with the nuggets.
In addition, the chain added a new hot Buffalo and sweet chile sauce. The latter, based on a traditional Thai condiment, was first introduced in North America during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But Coudreaut said the sauce already had been in McDonald’s restaurants in Australia.
“They actually have a Thai chile wrap,” he said. “We’ll collaborate with our food studios in different areas of the world” to develop new items.
Those studios are located in Hong Kong, Munich, Paris, Sydney and London.
• Salt. Coudreaut said McDonald’s was looking at salt content, too, “but it’s an important tool for chefs to use.” He said the company might look at lowering salt content in the future by using other techniques to enhance flavor, such as using citrus or other acid.
Coudreaut said he works closely with company nutritionists to establish at the outset of menu development what they want the nutritional profile of new items to be.
He added that although McDonald’s has had nutritionists on staff since he joined the company in 2004, they just started setting such benchmarks for menu items within the past two years.