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McDonald’s—the place for cheap, fast food that will fill a stomach but not necessarily please taste buds. That’s long been the massive chain’s image. And in the past decade, popular media, including Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me, and lawsuits have slammed McDonald’s as a health hazard. Yet today, McDonald’s share price is more than double what it was five years ago, its customer base has increased by 2 million people, and it employs a gourmet chef to oversee its menu choices.

The reason for its resurgence seems to hinge on that last point and the resulting menu improvements. Since 2007, McDonald’s has introduced several new products to expand into new markets and compete against more traditional restaurants, rather than just other fast food chains.

For example, the Southwest Chicken Salad aims to provide a more classic salad, and with 320 calories and 9 grams of fat, it offers a healthier alternative than similar products at competitor chains. On the other end of the product spectrum, the Angus Third Pounder offers 750 calories and 39 grams of fat, but it competes effectively against higher priced burgers sold by sit-down chain restaurants. Already in 2010, McDonald’s has introduced the Mac Snack Wrap, a “Big Mac on the go,” to appeal to the growing segment of customers who use drive-through services and eat in their cars.

Chef Dan Coudreaut states that his menu goal is to offer a more eclectic, gourmet feel. With a staff of 16, he considers nearly 2,000 new menu ideas annually. Only about 5 actually make it to the menu, and few of those last. Anything the chef and his team develop must be easy to assemble for the teenage workers in the restaurants, and it must avoid overly exotic or scarce ingredients that the chain could not procure easily and reliably for its 26 daily million customers.

Discussion Questions

1. McDonald’s has built its reputation by providing familiar, American comfort food. Is it wise to tweak this classic menu? 

2. Does it make sense to employ a single gourmet chef and staff to develop the menu for an international conglomerate?

John Cloud, “McDonald Chef: The Most Influential Cook in America?” Time, February 22, 2010