McDonald's wants to take some of the mystery ingredients out of Chicken McNuggets.
The world's biggest hamburger chain says it is testing an artificial preservative-free version of Chicken McNuggets, which have practically become synonymous with hyper-processed foods since they were introduced in the 1980s. The company says it began testing the new recipe in about 140 stores in Oregon and Washington in March.
It's the latest move by McDonald's to try and step up quality perceptions about its food as it works to turn around its business, which has lost customers in recent years. The company has conceded that it failed to keep up with changing tastes and that it is looking at improving core menu items.
Last week, it also said it is testing a version of its Big Mac that comes with bigger patties.
McDonald's did not provide details on what exactly is different about the new McNugget recipe, but said it is "simpler" and "parents can feel good" about it. Becca Hary, a McDonald's representative, noted that McNuggets are currently fried in oil that contains TBHQ, which is considered an artificial preservative.
The test reflects the sensitivities parents of young children in particular might have about food ingredients. McDonald's has long marketed to families with its Happy Meals and Ronald McDonald mascot.
The McNugget test was first reported by Crain's Chicago Business.
As people pay closer attention to food labels, companies across the food and beverage industry have tweaked recipes to remove ingredients that may sound unappetizing.
Last year, for instance, McDonald's tweaked its grilled chicken recipe to remove ingredients people might not recognize. That change removed maltodextrin, which McDonald's said was used to increase browning. Sodium phosphates, which McDonald's said was to keep chicken moist, were replaced with vegetable starch.
Chicken McNuggets are delivered to stores frozen and currently contain a long list of ingredients, according to the McDonald's website, including sodium phosphates. McDonald's said the McNugget recipe it is testing does not have sodium phosphates.
McDonald's said it is getting feedback from customers with the McNugget test, and did not say when it planned to launch the new recipe nationally.
Last week, McDonald's said sales rose 5.4 percent at established U.S. locations during the first three months of the year. The company did not say how much of that came from an uptick in customer visits. The results were boosted at least in part by higher pricing and the shuttering of underperforming stores.
McDonald's Corp., based in Oak Brook, Illinois, has more than 14,000 locations in the U.S.