Janice Fields, former president of McDonald's USA, told the 59th annual conference of the National Chicken Council that chicken is a big part of McDonald's future, because McDonald's success is based on meeting consumers' wants, and consumers want chicken.
"Back in early '90s, we saw the shift [where] customers were buying more chicken than beef. We knew we had to switch, but we are a burger company," said Fields. "As a burger company, McDonald's had to find a way to get credibility in chicken."
Fields said the original McNuggets were a mixture of white and dark meat, and as such, were labeled a "mystery meat." That was impeding the company's growth into chicken, but was resolved by the movement to an all-white-meat nugget in 2003.
"Almost overnight, we gained credibility in chicken with the white-meat McNugget," said Fields. "That was the pivot point for us."
From there, McDonald's expanded into more chicken offerings - sandwiches, salads and wraps - and today McDonald's sells more chicken than its four nearest competitors combined, according to Fields.
Fields talked about McDonald's development process. She said it is a long and complicated development process that takes into account the needs of employees, consumers and suppliers.
"The product has to be quick and easy, and it has to be hand-held," said Fields. "Sixty-six percent of our business is drive-through, so people have to be able to eat it with one hand. In addition, any new products have to fit into the existing operations and equipment. If we want to change equipment, we have to sell that idea to our 2,400 franchisees in the U.S., so we are very careful about adding equipment. We need to use existing equipment to make something new and different."
But Fields said the biggest challenge in product development is in consumer testing. "The product has to be scalable and accepted all across the country," said Fields. "We do national products; we invest in national advertising. Every product has to overcome geographic preference. We have too much at stake to fail with a new product."
A related video on Fields' appearance at the National Chicken Council's annual conference can be found on WATTAgNet.