The Slow Business Of Fast Food: Why It Takes McDonald’s 6 Months To Change 1 Ingredient

Image courtesy of Morton Fox

Why does it take three years for Wendy’s to create a new summer salad? Why did McDonald’s spend decades not listening to customers who wanted all-day breakfast? Even a seemingly simple change, like moving from margarine to butter, requires at least six months for the Golden Arches to make.

McDonald’s announced in Sept. 2015 that it would make over a few staple items — the English muffin, bagel, and biscuit — by adding real butter to the ingredient list.

The company planned to phase in the new ingredient as restaurants used up their supply of liquid margarine. That process took just six months, Bloomberg reports.

McDonald’s lightning-fast switcheroo was egged on by the company’s — and its rivals’ — renewed focus on capturing breakfast customers.

The fast food giant says that the expedited switch to butter — which was an original ingredient in the first McMuffin recipe from the early 1970s — was also a result of changes under CEO Steve Easterbrook’s vision.

“We’re rethinking the way we approach innovation and really questioning some of the processes we’ve used in the past,” Jessica Foust, director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s, tells Bloomberg. “The change to butter was extremely fast. That’s probably the quickest change that we’ve made.”

To move the process along, McDonald’s ditched its use of focus groups — typically used to gauge the interest of changes — and communicated the need for speed to suppliers. And the expedited schedule created a trickle down effect for McDonald’s suppliers.

Bloomberg reports that Grassland Dairy Products found itself on the hook to produce about 2.4 million pounds of additional butter for the swap. The company’s three facilities changed from six days of production to seven days. In turn, the butter producer had to push its cardboard supplier to make McDonald’s packaging four weeks faster than previously intended.

“It was a four-month turnaround from sample to rolling it out,” Trevor Wuethrich, president of the Greenwood, tells Bloomberg. “It was quick.”

The accelerated timeline appears to have worked for the fast food giant, though, as Bloomberg reports that same store sales jumped more than 6% in the first quarter.


It Took McDonald’s 6 Months to Swap From Margarine to Butter—and That Was Fast [Bloomberg]

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