A company in need of new direction. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

In its ongoing efforts to appeal to increasingly health-conscious consumers, McDonald’s announced Monday that it will remove artificial components from some of its most popular items.

The world’s largest hamburger chain will nix artificial preservatives from McNuggets and breakfast items, including pork sausage patties, omelet-style eggs and scrambled eggs. McDonald’s will also this month remove high-fructose corn syrup from buns. It has also completed a transition to only serve chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine. In total, these changes affect half of the Golden Arches' menu.

Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s USA, said in a release that his company is aiming to appease to consumers who want healthier fare with fewer artificial products.

“More than ever, people care about their food — where it comes from, what goes into it and how it’s prepared,” Andres said. “We’re making changes to ensure the food we’re proud of is food our customers love and feel good eating, and we remain committed to our continuing food journey at McDonald’s.”

Monday's announcement followed a report on July 26 that sales during January, February and March were up a paltry 1.8 percent from the previous quarter. Analysts had expected a 3.2 percent bump, Bloomberg News reported. The stock proceed to tumble from $127.40 to $121.71 the day that the sales report was announced after a month of steady increases, and it's now at $117.82. Compared to 2015 during the same period, McDonald's sales sank 2 percent.

To combat losses like these, McDonald's has been trying to appeal to customers who increasingly prefer fast-casual chains. Stephen Dutton, who analyzes the food industry at Euromonitor International, said McDonald’s is aiming to be more like these newer brands to appeal to health-conscious consumers who like to know what's in their food and where it came from.

“McDonald’s wants to make their image more premium fast-casual,” Dutton said. “It's trying to present itself to be a modern premium burger chain while still winning on value.”

Many fast-casuals base their brand on responsibly sourced ingredients, which they often declare lack GMOs, antibiotics in meat and dairy, and certain artificial ingredients.

McDonald's is mimicking that. Its newest tagline reads “The simpler the better” — a departure from the uber-long ingredients that many associate with fast food and processed foods in general. McDonald's is newly emphasizing "fresh-cracked" eggs in its Egg McMuffins, burgers made with “100% real beef” and chicken made with “simple pantry ingredients.” Salads have swapped iceberg lettuce for kale, baby spinach and carrots. 

Its iconic burgers, McNuggets and breakfast foods are increasingly aligned with that image. McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary told USA Today on Monday that McNuggets, for instance, will have "ingredients that sound more familiar to people." The chicken product no longer has sodium phosphates and will be made with pea and rice starch. It also now lacks chicken skin, safflower oil and citric acid.

Despite the changes, it’s not clear that food lacking artificial preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup is indeed healthier. Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said to the Associated Press that these swaps don't lessen this food's calorie count. And despite the public's discomfort with multi-syllabic food, Jacobson said the sugar is no less healthy than high-fructose corn syrup.

Dutton said, "It's more about perception about the actual healthfulness of the product rather than its nutrition value."


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Since Steve Easterbrook became the chief executive of McDonald’s in March 2015, the chain has undergone a slew of changes to make up for its suffering sales. Dutton highlighted the chain’s expansion into self-serve kiosks to expedite food ordering and more aesthetically pleasing interiors. Easterbrook also added all-day breakfast.

Other fast-food chains are exploring more caloric methods to combat falling sales. Taco Bell and Burger King, for instance, have rolled out mash-ups like the Waffle Taco and Mac ‘n’ Cheetos to attract Gen Z and millennials.

Artificial components are used because they’re cheap, Dutton said. Nixing them will likely drive up production costs, but McDonald’s said it won’t be raising the costs of its food.