5 Charts That Explain McDonald’s Move Toward Antibiotic-Free Chicken

A major portion of McDonald’s supply chain is getting the Chipotle Mexican Grill treatment, as the world’s largest burger chain will begin sourcing chicken only from poultry suppliers that don’t use human antibiotics on their animals. Leaders of the Golden Arches also announced McDonald’s would only sell milk from cows that have not been treated with the growth hormone r-BST, making two major menu initiatives from the biggest brand (and biggest target for activists) in a restaurant industry rapidly moving toward a cleaner, greener food supply.

Catching up to the antibiotic-free standard the fastest-growing brands like Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread and, of course, Chipotle have set is an important step for McDonald’s, and the following Technomic research findings put the size of the market opportunity in context.

1. Consumers purchase and pay more for food that gives them peace of mind.

Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report

Base: Approximately 375 consumers aged 18+; base varies slightly as attributes were randomly rotated. Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–5 where 5 = much more healthy and 1 = much less healthy. Percentages may not equal cumulative percent due to rounding.
Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc.

Technomic’s Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, released this past fall, found that consumers equate the lack of additives in food with health and wellness to a higher degree than they do for descriptors like “natural” or “organic.” As a result, they’re willing to seek out and pay more for restaurant meals and menu items that tout the absence of preservatives, genetically modified organisms and other additives. More than one-third of consumers said they were OK with paying “significantly more” or “slightly more” for items that were preservative-free (37%), hormone-free (37%), antibiotic-free (36%) or GMO-free (34%).

2. Consumers, especially McDonald’s target customer, demand more transparency.

Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report

Base: Approximately 900 consumers aged 18+. Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of  1–6 where 6 = agree completely and 1 = disagree completely.
Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc.

McDonald’s and other restaurants are improving the story of their food sources because consumers demand to know those details. Slightly more than half of consumers agree with the statement, “I would like restaurants to be more transparent about what’s in their menu items,” and 43% agreed that “access to nutrition information at restaurants makes me more likely to order a healthy item.” In both cases, consumers between the ages of 25 and 44—that all-important Millennial demographic McDonald’s must win over—lead other groups in the trend.

3. Additive-free foods don’t damage taste perceptions for restaurants.

Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report

Base: Approximately 375 consumers aged 18+; base varies slightly as attributes were randomly rotated. Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–5 where 1 = much less tasty and 5 = much more tasty. Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.
Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc.

Any major supply chain move like this comes with significant cost considerations, but restaurants also are always wary about what it does to the taste of menu items. In this case, consumers don’t perceive foods free of antibiotics, hormones or other additives to taste worse, or really any differently at all.

4. Awareness of additives won’t abate anytime soon.

Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report

Base: 842 consumers aged 18+. Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–6 where 6 = agree completely and 1 = disagree completely.
Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc.

Two in five consumers said in 2014 that they are more aware of additives in their food than they were two years earlier. Women across all age groups drive that trend. This percentage is likely to grow as the additive-free movement picks up steam among the biggest restaurant chains.

5. McDonald’s and other QSR brands have more catching up to do.

Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+. Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–6 where 6 = extremely likely and 1 = not likely at all. Grocery-store prepared-foods area was measured as supermarket/grocery-store prepared-foods areas in 2012.
Source: Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc.

The quick-service segment still trails other parts of the industry in terms of overall health perceptions, particularly among female consumers. Only 34% of consumers overall said they would be likely to order healthful menu items from quick-service brands, higher only than the percentage of people who would order healthful items from drug stores and convenience stores. The fast-casual and casual-dining segments unsurprisingly lead other sectors in this attribute, with 45% and 44% of consumers, respectively. But grocery store prepared-food areas are right behind with 43% of consumers, indicating another significant threat to fast-food brands’ chances at incremental sales growth.

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Mark Brandau

Mark Brandau is Content Manager for Technomic. He joined Technomic in 2014 from No Limit Agency, and prior to that he worked as an editor for Nation’s Restaurant News for nearly 10 years.

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