McDonald’s ends critics’ beef with its chicken

Since 1955, when Ray Kroc bought the small McDonald’s burger chain from the brothers of the same name, the company has been a force to be reckoned with in the fast-food industry. But in recent years, the company has seen its profits continue to fall while being outpaced by competitors such as Five Guys and In-n-Out Burger; it has rolled out numerous products, referred to itself as Mickey D’s, and even tried a “Pay with Lovin” promotion that was met with a mild reception at best.

But now McDonald’s has decided to make a fundamental change in how it makes its chicken products. With consumers’ tastes and sensibilities changing, the corporation recently made an announcement that they would only use antibiotic-free chicken in their restaurants in two years ensuring that their always-popular Chicken McNuggets as well as their sandwiches would be much more consumer-friendly.

A huge boost in flagging public relations

In reality, McDonald’s has been lagging behind its competitors in this area for some time; Panera, Shake Shack and Chipotle have been trumpeting their antibiotic-free products for years now, and Chick-fil-A announced last year that all of their chicken would be antibiotic-free within the next five years. Meyer Skalak, senior director of supply sourcing at Chick-fil-A, told USA TODAY that antibiotic-free chicken is one of the top customer requests and noted that right now 20% of the company’s chicken has been raised with no antibiotics whatsoever.

The move by McDonald’s was hailed by many food experts as a step in the right direction. Steven Roach, an analyst for Keep Antibiotics Working, a consumer and animal welfare advocacy coalition, believes that the company’s move can lock in a new mindset and help other producers and other companies to do the same thing. Given that some 23,000 Americans die due to antibiotic-resistant infections annually, say the Centers for Disease Control, and another 2 million or more get sick, McDonald’s can now truthfully say that it is looking out for consumer safety.

In marketing, McDonald’s now takes a giant leap forward

One of the largest problems McDonald’s has is its image as a quick fast-food place where one can drive up to a window and leave with a meal in under two minutes; in fact, two-thirds of its customers order from the drive-thru. For years, that was what consumers wanted, but recently tastes have begun to shift not necessarily away from quick food, but to better-quality and ethically-sourced ingredients.

Now, as McDonald’s shifts their focus to more healthy supply lines, its other competitors in the fast-food industry will need to figure out how to match its move. McDonald’s can sustain the extra price increase due to its size, but other companies like Burger King and Wendy’s will now be forced to try the same tactic as well. With McDonald’s now able to advertise antibiotic-free chicken, sales of its chicken nuggets, sandwiches and wraps should now go even higher than before; the company’s chicken products actually outsell beef products, so a strong marketing campaign has the ability to sap customers who like the idea of a quickly-made, relatively healthy meal from higher-end competitors.

As new CEO Steve Easterbrook meets with franchise owners and suppliers to promote his “Turnaround Agenda”, one of the goals is to give consumers food they feel good about eating. With proper guidance and promotion, McDonald’s may have found the right tool to help reverse its skidding sales and bring in new customers as well as keeping old ones.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations and founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation.