McDonald's is planning to trim its menu, review its cooking methods and maybe even get rid of some of the ingredients it uses to change perceptions that it serves junk food.
CEO Don Thompson sought to reassure investors Wednesday that such changes will help strengthen the chain's appeal as it fights to hold onto customers. The discussion in Oak Brook, Illinois, came after the company earlier this week reported yet another monthly decline in U.S. sales. It said the figure fell 4.6 percent at established locations in November.
Thompson has conceded McDonald's Corp. has failed to keep up with changing tastes. One of the problems is that people are increasingly moving toward foods they feel are fresh or wholesome, and the image of fast-food burgers and fries doesn't exactly fit that bill.
Among the changes Thompson and McDonald's USA president Mike Andres touched on were ingredients and how food is prepared and delivered.
Here's a look at what's in store:
In just the past decade, McDonald's has added 100 items to its menu, said Andres, who stepped into his role in October. While that has driven up sales, it also complicated the menu and made it harder for people to quickly decide what they want.
So starting next month, he said McDonald's will cut eight items from the menu and reduce the number of Extra Value Meals from 16 to 11. Thompson and Andres didn't say exactly what will get the axe, but favorites like the Big Mac likely won't disappear anytime soon.
Instead, Andres suggested McDonald's is looking at reducing the variations on particular items.
A representative for McDonald's said the company is testing a simplified menu that offers one Quarter Pounder with Cheese instead of four; one Premium Chicken sandwich instead of three; and one Snack Wrap instead of three.
Earlier, McDonald's has also said the Bacon Clubhouse burger — a premium offering introduced just this year— could be taken off the national menu.
READING THE INGREDIENTS
McDonald's is trying to improve the image of its food, especially as people examine labels for artificial ingredients they're not familiar with, and therefore find unappealing.
Andres said McDonald's is looking at different cooking and holding procedures to enhance the appeal of its core items, as well as shrinking the number of ingredients it uses. He noted McDonald's restaurants go through supplies quickly, meaning it may be a relatively easy task.
"Why do we need to have preservatives in our food?" he asked. "We probably don't."
McDonald's also recently launched a marketing campaign that addressed common questions about its food, such as whether the beef has worms (the company's answer: "No. Gross! End of story.").
HAVING IT YOUR WAY
The company is also making a big push behind a "Create Your Taste" program that lets people pick the buns, cheeses and topping for their burgers. McDonald's says that will be in 2,000 of its more than 14,000 U.S. locations next year.
The rollout is seen as a response to the growing popularity of places like Chipotle, which lets people customize their orders by walking down a line and saying what they want on their bowls and burritos.
At McDonald's, offering such customization may not be that easy; the company has noted that "complicated" orders for "Create Your Taste" could take five to seven minutes, compared with just a couple of minutes for regular items.
Still, Thompson noted Wednesday that people who come to eat made-to-order burgers at the restaurant have a little more time on their hands and are willing to wait longer.
He also noted the "Create Your Taste" program is not just a test, but a program that's in the process of being implemented.