McDonald's Kitchen Lab Puts New Products to Test

Photo: Now Were Lovin It: McDonalds Recipes Endure Vigorous Approval Process: From Taste Tests to Speed Trials, the Popular Franchise Perfects Their Products

McDonald's Angus snack wrap seems like a simple idea. Just take their popular, juicy Angus Third Pounder burgers, slice them up and stick them in a soft flour tortilla, right? Well, this "simple" idea took a year to develop, plan, taste test and become the appetizing product it is today.

So how do items on the fast food chain's menu get the Golden Arches' seal of approval?

From kitchens, to sample centers to warehouse laboratories, new products are poked and prodded for months as they travel through several pit stops to ensure that they meet McDonald's standards.

The journey begins with McDonald's executive chef Dan Coudreaut in the franchise's Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters. Whenever a new idea is introduced, he gets to play with the recipe.

"There is no bad idea in this kitchen ... nothing is really off limits," Coudreaut said.

Formally a chef at the Four Seasons, Coudreaut said his current job is obviously very different. He's working with different food prices and cooking for a much bigger crowd.

"Twenty-seven million people a day," Coudreaut said proudly. "And that's just in the U.S."

McDonald's Chooses Food Wisely

Given the massive quantity of food needed to serve McDonald's customers, Coudreaut's decisions on which ingredients stay and which ones go can make or break the food chain.

Selling 4.4 million pounds of beef and 8.5 million pounds of potatoes every day, the chef says he's always conscious of which food products are readily available. Such was the case when he experimented with using figs in a smoothie.

"Somebody's got to have them. We have to be able to grow them," Coudreaut explained. "We can't deplete the world's supply of figs."

Another major contributing factor in approving new products: speed. It is a fast food chain after all, and McDonald's employees have to be able to throw together everything on the menu in a matter of seconds.

The new Angus wrap, for example, calls for 40 seconds of assembly.

Once new recipes are locked down, the latest dishes are sent off for focus grouping and taste testing, which are constantly being conducted at headquarters, as well as at other tasting centers around the country.

McDonald's Puts Their Food Though Taste and Speed Tests

The somewhat Orwellian named "Department of Sensory Evaluations" not only makes sure the franchise's food tastes good, but also consistent, down to choosing the right supplier for the oatmeal.

From there, recipes are taken into the headquarters' "Innovation Center" for yet another round of fine-tuning. This is where full-scale working mock-ups of McDonald's restaurants are built and employees can practice racing against the clock to put these new recipes to the "fast food" test.

People are also paid to pose as customers, which means coming into the center, ordering off the menu and eating McDonald's for the day.

In a business that's built on good food made right and made quickly, every second counts and McDonald's has made numerous improvements over the years. For example, the latest cash register models allow employees to be 50 percent more efficient at processing orders than the old ones.

"It improves our capacity," said McDonald's Executive Vice President Jeff Stratton.

Stratton said he has shaved off "thousands of seconds" from his company's food production process over his 37 years with McDonald's, often just from introducing faster operating platforms.

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