Updated from Nov. 4 with new details on stock price and chicken McGriddle launch.
Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 4.
McDonald's has more cooking on the food front than a broader launch of chicken McGriddles this month.
McDonald's (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation Report CEO Steve Easterbrook has hammered home one message since taking over the top job at the world's largest restaurant company: He wants to make the Golden Arches a "modern, progressive burger joint."
Unfortunately, he has fallen miserably short with several changes coming to the iconic Big Mac, which were first announced in November, likely because McDonald's is looking for quick ways to jump-start sagging sales in the U.S. and reawaken a stock that has badly lagged the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past year (unchanged for McDonald's vs. a 15% gain on the Dow).
The Grand Mac, which rests on a larger sesame seed bun, is made with two beef patties that weigh in at one-third of a pound compared to a traditional Big Mac, which has two, 1.6-ounce beef patties. The Mac Jr. is a essentially a single-layer Big Mac. Each sandwich will have the traditional Big Mac sauce. Both burgers are expected to become available in early 2017.
McDonald's started testing the Grand Mac and Mac Jr. in more than 120 restaurants in the central Ohio and Dallas areas in April.
But the new family of Big Macs ultimately doesn't do anything to move the iconic burger brand forward. Or, to play on Easterbrook's tag line, the new Big Macs aren't modern or progressive. For starters, both additions don't keep pace with the innovation being grilled up at upstart better burger joints such as Shake Shack (SHAK) - Get Shake Shack, Inc. Class A Report or Smashburger.
Shake Shack, for instance, celebrated the Chicago Cubs World Series win by serving a cheeseburger on that had chili on it from a local Chicago hot spot. Smashburger has a host of creative burgers on its menu, such as one with truffle mayo and crimini mushrooms.
Granted, McDonald's is a much larger operation than either Shake Shack or Smashburger so it's harder to quickly launch new foods. But Easterbrook has to have the power to make something better happen at McDonald's than simply shrinking a Big Mac and making one more supersized.
And then there is that Big Mac sauce.
Pick up your food innovation game, McDonald's.
The orange, tangy sauce -- also known as "special sauce" -- that is heaped on top of Big Mac sandwiches worldwide has been not part of the Golden Arches latest push to remove certain unwanted ingredients from its food. According to the McDonald's Web site, Big Mac sauce still has an astounding 32 ingredients, including the same high-fructose corn syrup that the company recently chose to omit from its sesame seed buns. The sauce also boasts as many as five preservatives (food additives) such as potassium sorbate and caramel color, which are quickly becoming relics of 1980s fast-food menus amid efforts by the industry to offer more natural ingredients to health-conscious consumers.
A source close to the situation told TheStreet last August that McDonald's is looking across its menu for ways to improve its ingredients, but that news on a cleaner -- or free of artificial ingredients -- Big Mac sauce wasn't imminent.
It's not exactly unheard of for a fast food company to make a healthier-sounding condiment. Panera Bread (PNRA) removed the remaining artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors in its packaged food products, such as salad dressings, by the end of 2016. The recipe for Shake Shack's popular burger sauce known as "Shacksauce" while a closely guarded secret allegedly only contains about six ingredients common to most household kitchens -- none of which are the additive calcium disodium EDTA found in Big Mac sauce.
All in all, very feeble attempt at making McDonald's modern and progressive Mr. Easterbrook.