The orange, tangy sauce -- also known as "special sauce" -- that is heaped on top of Big Mac sandwiches worldwide was not part of the Golden Arches latest push to remove certain unwanted ingredients from its food. According to the McDonald's website, 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 said 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. A McDonald's spokeswoman cut and pasted the company's latest press release detailing improvements to its buns and Chicken McNuggets into an email when asked by TheStreet if high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives would be removed from Big Mac sauce this year.
McDonald's failure at cleaning up its well-known Big Mac sauce is embarrassing on several fronts.
First, McDonald's is aggressively marketing on TV during the Olympic games in Rio that it's no longer stuck in the 1980s, as it has officially removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets. On one side of the screen, a young boy, apparently from the 1980s, passes his affinity of basketball, video games, biking riding and dogs to a young girl in the present day, on the other side of the screen. While their interests look similar, McDonald's makes it a point to show how times have changed. At the end of the commercial, the split-screen cuts to one shot and it's revealed the boy is actually the girl's father.
What if the young girl in that commercial dipped a new clean Chicken McNugget into her dad's preservative-filled Big Mac sauce -- is the Chicken McNugget then dirty? Is it less healthier? Who knows. But, the lack of a cohesive message to consumers that its food is free of chemical-sounding additives -- along the lines of what Chipotle (CMG) - Get Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Report and Panera (PNRA) articulate -- may continue to leave many skeptical on McDonald's food. That is despite McDonald's now trumpeting its new slogan "The Simpler The Better."
Secondarily, it's not exactly unheard of for a fast food company to make a healthier-sounding condiment. Panera Bread announced in June that it will remove the remaining artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors in its packaged food products, such as salad dressings, by the end of this year. The recipe for Shake Shack's (SHAK) - Get Shake Shack, Inc. Class A Report 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.
"The recipe for the Big Mac sauce has been secret for years, and its an iconic part of the flavor profile of that particular burger -- I suspect that they're working to make sure the flavor profile doesn't change on that sauce," opined Technomic Advisory Group Senior Principal David Henkes. He added, "Making menu items healthier is important, but for such an important part of the menu as the Big Mac, I'm sure they want to make sure it's right."
Perhaps McDonald's chefs are hard at work in test kitchens crafting a clean Big Mac sauce to serve the next generation of Big Mac fans. But with nothing on the horizon and a menu still chock-full of preservatives and food additives, it's hard to give McDonald's the pat on the back it so badly wants for its latest initiatives.