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McDonald’s Plans Small But Mighty Burger Changes

McDonald’s is revamping the Big Mac along with other core burgers to improve appearance and taste.

Though some of the changes may seem small, the makeover project actually represents a significant shift in product design and strategy.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Yahoo article, The behind-the-scenes changes coming to McDonald’s burgers, by Dennis Lee, December 4, 2023; the Delish article, McDonald’s Is Making Major Changes To Its Burgers, by Danielle Harling, December 1, 2023; and the YouTube video in the spotlight.  Image source: Ingram Publishing/SuperStock

Discussion Questions:

1. What kinds of changes is McDonald’s making?

Guidance: McDonald’s has been working for the past seven years to improve both the appearance and taste of its core menu items.  This includes things like getting the patties to be juicier, making the cheese “meltier,” and having the distribution of the sesame seeds on the buns look more “homemade.”

The rollout has already begun in parts of the U.S. and is expected to be completed domestically by early 2024.

2. How do these changes relate to McDonald’s strategies?

Guidance: Throughout its history, McDonald’s has focused on the key strategies of consistent quality, responsiveness/short processing time (being fast), and low cost. Interestingly, though, a chef at McDonald’s headquarters who has worked on the makeover for many years used the words “dry” and “cracked” to describe a best case scenario for the traditional version of its patty.

Now, McDonald’s seeks to introduce higher quality of design as a key to improving its sales.  Perhaps surprisingly, this will primarily be accomplished while using the same ingredients, with a few exceptions such as a softer brioche bun.

Making minor changes to how the product is prepared is where most of the benefit is set to come from.

3. Why is McDonald’s making these changes?

Guidance: In large part McDonald’s is making these changes because customers have many choices in the fast food and fast casual segment of the market.  The prices of many of its products meet or even exceed those of some of its competitors, such as In-N-Out, which many people perceive to have a higher quality of design.

Thus, in order to keep or increase its market share, McDonald’s has to balance the tricky tasks of improving its products’ flavor and appearance while still providing the familiarity of its beloved classic line.

Too much change could also be problematic, causing customers to shy away and long for their old favorites.  It also has to make quality improvements without adding greatly to the cost of the burgers, in keeping with its low cost strategy and image.

4. What changes in process are required to support the changes in design and quality?

Guidance: To serve burgers that are more fresh from the grill, fewer patties will be cooked at a time.  Batch size will be reduced from eight to six.  Also, to enhance the quality and moisture content of the cooked patty, the clamshell cooking equipment will be recalibrated so that it does not squeeze the burger as tightly, reducing the juices lost in cooking.

Continuing with the idea of smaller lot sizes, lettuce and pickles will be replenished more frequently from the refrigerator.  Smaller containers will be used to store them.  The trade-off is that employees will have to increase their movements, making more trips to the cooler.  Customers, however, will benefit from lettuce that is less likely to have wilted and pickles that are crisper.

To make sure the cheese melts on the patty instead of being stiff and cold, it will be brought to room temperature prior to being placed on the patty.  Workers will have to ensure that only enough cheese to meet the current demand is being brought out at a time so it doesn’t sit too long and go bad, while at the same time making sure to have enough on hand to use it fresh from the cooler.

Softer brioche buns will enhance the product’s texture, and a thicker bottom bun design will help better retain heat.

Small changes in both design and process are expected to make a big improvement in the perceived quality of the product.

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