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McDonald's new chicken sandwich is being tested in more than 150 restaurants.

The latest plot twist in the Chicken Sandwich War stars McDonald's and centers on MSG use

McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees say flavor enhancer is used in chicken sandwiches sold regionally while rivals such as Popeyes and Chick-fil-A use MSG nationally

McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees are rarely unified. But when it comes to new reports surfacing over the brand’s use of MSG in a premium chicken sandwich test, the company and its operators are jointly fighting back.

McDonald’s operators downplayed reports of the chain’s use of MSG, or monosodium glutamate, in its new chicken sandwich. The National Owners Association told members in a January email that MSG is safe and widely used by “all of our Chicken Sandwich competitors.”

“The FDA deems MSG safe and the tests over the years have disproven the myth that MSG is harmful. We don’t need to get distracted by media stories that can’t get their facts straight,” NOA said.

The new chicken sandwich is being tested in more than 150 restaurants in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Virginia. McDonald’s Corp. confirmed that the new chicken sandwich and other regional chicken entrees do contain MSG.

However, there are no national menu items with MSG, the Chicago-based chain said.

That is not true for rivals.

A representative for Popeyes’ confirmed that its wildly popular chicken sandwich does contain MSG. In fact, multiple items sold on the Popeyes menu contain MSG including the quick-service chain’s chicken nuggets, tenders, chicken wraps and shrimp po’boy. Chick-fil-A’s classic chicken sandwich and chicken strips also contain MSG.

Besides the new Crispy Chicken Sandwich, other regional McDonald’s menu items with MSG include the Saiman Soup Base (Hawaii), the Portuguese Sausage (Hawaii), the Mighty Crispy Chicken Fillet (testing in Augusta, Ga.) and the Ultimate Crispy Chicken Fillet (testing in Seattle).

The Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich are testing through Jan. 26. If the sandwich goes national, it’s unclear if it will continue to contain MSG.  

“We are always listening to our customers regarding our menu offerings,” ,” McDonald’s told Nation’s Restaurant News. “So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich. Feedback and insights from the test will inform our decisions moving forward.”

Franchisees have made it known for months that the brand needs a premium chicken sandwich to compete with Chick-fil-A. In July 2019, NOA said “Chick-fil-A invented the chicken sandwich, but we can do one better.”

Last week, NOA re-stated its position, saying McDonald’s needs to “stay focused on coming up with a chicken sandwich our customers are going to crave.”

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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