The publication got its hands on an email sent this weekend by the National Owners Association, a group formed in 2018 by hundreds of McDonald’s franchisees who want more control over their restaurants, their menus and their prices. Now they want that crispy chicken sandwich, and they wanted it yesterday.
“We need to stay focused on coming up with a Chicken Sandwich our customers are going to crave,” the email reads, according to the Business Insider story. “A chicken sandwich that gives our customers another reason to visit McDonald’s.”
The National Owners Association did not immediately respond Tuesday to a phone call from The Washington Post.
McDonald’s is already late to the party, which started in August with the now-famous introduction of Popeyes’s fried chicken sandwich, an item so popular that it generated long lines at the drive-through and fractured the fragile peace among the giants of the U.S. fast-food industry. Suddenly, every company in the known junk-food universe needed to have a fried chicken sandwich, stat, or at least remind customers that they used to love their fried bird until that Popeyes interloper came along.
In September, McDonald’s tried to cobble something together with parts already on the shelf, but no one was fooled by the spicy barbecue chicken sandwich. It was like a cheap knockoff of an iPhone.
But in December, McDonald’s got serious. It started testing its crispy chicken sandwich in a pair of markets. It was different from the chain’s other poultry-based products, including the superb Buttermilk Crispy Tenders. It was reportedly more like the chain’s previous entrant, the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich, a Chick-fil-A wannabe that was discontinued in 2015, apparently dead from customer apathy.
More than a month has passed since McDonald’s debuted the sandwich, and there has not been word on a further nationwide rollout. There has, however, been scandal in the land of the golden arches. Chief executive Steve Easterbrook was fired in the fall for having a consensual relationship with an employee. Two senior executives recently filed a federal lawsuit accusing McDonald’s of a “continuing pattern and practice of intentional race discrimination.” The chain is now trying to restore order after what’s been described as the party culture of the Easterbrook era.
The franchisees are desperate for good news, according to the National Owners Association email, although they are apparently worried about recent reports that the new chicken sandwich contains MSG, a flavor enhancer that causes health concerns among some consumers even though studies have shown the ingredient to be safe.
“There will be talk about it containing MSG,” the email reads, according to the BI report. “Needless to say, all of our Chicken Sandwich competitors use MSG, and many foods naturally contain MSG. The FDA deems MSG safe and the tests over the years have disproved the myth that MSG is harmful. We don’t need to get distracted by media stories that can’t get their facts straight.”
“We are always listening to our customers regarding our menu offerings,” a McDonald’s spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Post. “So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich. Feedback and insights from the test will inform our decisions moving forward.”
As a point of comparison, Burger King made the decision to take its Impossible Whopper to more cities after only a few weeks of testing the plant-based burger in St. Louis. Then again, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Burger King has more than 7,200 locations across the United States. McDonald’s has twice the number of locations, with more than 14,400 restaurants. Scaling up production for the crispy chicken sandwich for that many outlets will clearly take time.
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