McDonald’s to trim menu, examine ingredients

In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, photo, a McDonald's Big Mac sandwich is photographed at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 the company 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. In November, it said the figure fell 4.6 percent at established locations.

Thompson has conceded McDonald’s Corp. has failed to keep up with changing tastes, with people increasingly moving toward foods they feel are fresh or wholesome.

Among the changes he 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:

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SHRINKING MENU

In just the past decade, McDonald’s has added 100 items to its menu, Andres said. 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, McDonald’s will cut eight items from the menu and reduce the number of Extra Value Meals from 16 to 11. Representatives for McDonald’s did not immediately respond when asked for details, and Thompson and Andres didn’t say exactly what will get the axe either. 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, such as the three chicken McWraps the company rolled out last year as a fresher alternative. The thinking is that people who order a McWrap that is taken off the menu would be willing to switch to one of the others. And McDonald’s could reduce the number of toppings or sauces it keeps stocked in its kitchen.

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 food, 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 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 minutes for regular items.

Still, Thompson noted Wednesday that people who come for made-to-order burgers 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.

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