As McDonald’s new chief executive officer Don Thompson steps into the CEO role at the world’s largest restaurant chain, customers may see more new chicken items instead of beef. Thompson is pulling from McDonald’s 160-item recipe book, which includes bone-in chicken wings and cashew teriyaki salads with chicken, to sell new food and attract cash-conscious consumers amid a shaky global economy. It’s a “tremendous opportunity,” Thompson said during a consumer conference on May 30.

“Some great examples include our large wrap in Europe and snack items like Chicken McBites,” he said. “Our customers have given us permission to stretch our brand, so we are entering new categories with new products.”

McDonald’s is looking to draw budget-minded Americans with chicken items, which can be priced lower than other proteins, according to Bryan Elliott, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Florida. “The consumer is expressing some recent signs of distress” and chicken costs are “cheap relative to beef right now by a lot,” he said.

Chicken also is “perceived to be healthier,” Elliott said. “That could certainly be a factor in their thinking.” A Big Mac has 550 calories, while a six-piece order of Chicken McNuggets has 280 calories. Last week, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company began selling Spicy Chicken McBites in the United States.

Thompson  started at McDonald’s 22 years ago as an electrical engineer  and was president of McDonald’s USA from 2006 to 2010, before being named chief operating officer, after Jim Skinner, the previous CEO, left the company. McDonald’s has more than 33,500 stores worldwide, of which about 80 percent are franchised.

 

 

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