McDonald’s Corp. is testing Quarter Pounders made with fresh beef in Dallas, rather than frozen, which could foretell one of the biggest shifts in product specifications in the chain’s history.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant confirmed the test on Thursday, saying in an email statement that the test is taking place at 14 locations. Yet it’s too early to tell whether the test could be expanded on a broader scale.
The test is limited to burgers made with quarter-pound patties, including the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Homestyle Burger, Bacon Clubhouse Burger and the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
“Like all of our tests, this one too is designed to see what works and what doesn’t within our restaurants by considering the operational experience, customer response, price points and other important information, which may inform future decisions,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa McComb said in the email. “It’s very premature to draw any conclusions from this test.”
Still, the fresh beef test is perhaps the clearest sign yet that McDonald’s, under CEO Steve Easterbrook, as well as McDonald’s USA president Mike Andres, is looking under every rock in its bid to reinvigorate consistent sales growth after a three-year slide.
Fresh beef would be a massive change for McDonald’s. The chain’s entire system is based on the use of frozen burger patties. So switching to fresh beef, even for some of its burgers, would be a major undertaking both at the restaurant and the supply-chain levels.
McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. and the world based on total sales, and has 14,000 domestic locations. It’s far bigger than any other concept that uses fresh beef, most notably Wendy’s, which has about 6,000 North American locations.
Yet many people inside and outside McDonald’s say it should shift to fresh beef to improve product quality, as well as its reputation among consumers. Improving the quality of some of its burgers while maintaining its trademark speed would be a major coup for McDonald’s.
The chain has reported some recent sales success due in part to the introduction of all-day breakfast last fall. Same-store sales rose 5.4 percent in the first quarter, easily besting its major quick-service rivals.
But considering that sales at breakfast remain relatively strong and that the chain is selling breakfast items all day, that means consumers are still buying fewer burgers from McDonald’s.
Executives have said for months that they are looking to improve the quality of the chain’s food, and that no menu item is sacrosanct.
They noted that sales of the Egg McMuffin increased 28 percent last year after McDonald’s started using real butter and switched to its original English muffin.
“Execution of the core menu is first and foremost,” Andres said at an investors’ conference in March.
The fresh beef test is one of many McDonald’s is holding at restaurants in markets across the country. The chain recently tested garlic fries made with garlic from Gilroy, Calif., at a handful of locations in the San Francisco area. The test was so successful that locations ran out of garlic.
Additionally, McDonald’s is testing multiple sizes of Big Macs in the Columbus, Ohio, and Dallas markets.
“We are on a journey to modernize our restaurants to deliver a more engaging, customized and relaxing customer experience,” McComb said in an email. “Tests like this can help inform our journey.”
Update: May 12, 2016 The first paragraph of this story was edited for clarity and phrasing.