Changing a product formula, especially when it involves something we eat or drink, is a very involved process for a large food company. It involves lots of chemistry and can take up to two years to complete the process, as new ingredients must be sourced and new recipes developed and tested. And so when McDonald's announced a couple of years ago that it was removing almost all of the artificial ingredients from it's products, we must consider that this is no small feat.
Gone are artificial ingredients like sodium benzoate and calcium propionate. Butter has replaced margarine. Sugar has replaced corn syrup. The eggs are cage-free. The chicken has no antibiotics. And in response to pressure from the comparative advertisers at Wendy's, McMarketers have introduced fresh beef into the supply chain so that now all Quarter Pounders are made with fresh beef. They really do taste better. Indeed, marketers at McDonald's are making heroic efforts to improve the chain's image and offer healthier, tastier fare.
But this will prove to be a tall order since competitors like Yum Brands, Chik-fil-A, and Wendy's are also making efforts to update products for a more health-conscious global market. McDonald's has shown lackluster results for several years now, as competitors of all kinds have grabbed market share, but the company is still growing. And yet it is unlikely that making these moves alone will be enough to refresh the brand. Stores are being remodeled and updated, but that too won't likely be enough.
McDonald's hasn't had a truly successful new product introduction in a very, very long time. And so marketers desperately need to find something that breaks this cycle of failure, and they need to do so soon. Thinking outside the bun might be in order here, but let's not rule anything out. An investment in consumer research coupled with a healthy R&D budget is necessary to make this a reality. Is McDonald's up to the task?
Discussion: What are your ideas for a new McDonald's product? What else can marketers do to improve the brand's image?
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