McDonald's Kitchen Lab Puts New Products to Test

Fast food franchise subjects new menu items to taste tests, speed trials.

ByABC News
August 20, 2010, 11:14 AM

Aug. 20, 2010— -- 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."

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.