McDonald’s Cites Drop in Popularity for End of Walnut Salad

April 29, 2013

With new products in the wings, McDonald’s is trimming less popular items from its menu.

The Oak Brook-based burger giant said Thursday that it plans to discontinue its fruit and walnut salad and Chicken Selects. It’s also mulling the fate of the Angus Third Pounder.

The decision comes at a time when McDonald’s has been grilled by investors about a dearth of new products as well as softening sales.

With a number of items set to debut nationally — among them a spicy McChicken sandwich and the Egg White Delight breakfast sandwich — the cuts likely reflect the company making room for them, and others slated for this year.

“We are always talking to our customers and make decisions regarding our menu — what to add and what to remove — on a case-by-case basis,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, said that while the current cuts are more than McDonald’s usually makes to its menu, it’s also introducing new products faster.

“The need to streamline their menu has become increasingly important,” he said.

McDonald’s posted its first monthly same-store sales decline in more than nine years in October, which led to a slew of questions about how the golden arches would fare against resurgent competition from Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell as well as fast-casual players like Chipotle and Panera.

During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in January, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson acknowledged “some softening and some slowing” in the business.

“A couple of things needed to be stronger,” he said. “We needed to have and execute — we had it, but execute a more robust menu pipeline for our consumers, and that’s across the board in beverages and beef offerings and chicken offerings.” This year, Thompson said, McDonald’s will have new products in each of those areas.

Speculation involving the removal of the fruit and walnut salad, launched in 2005, and Chicken Selects, introduced in 2004, has circulated for years. But removing the Angus burger, which is sold with a variety of toppings, and as the primary component of three snack wraps, would be a more significant departure for McDonald’s.

Launched in 2009 with great fanfare, the Angus burger had been through years of testing and was the company’s first premium burger since the Big N’ Tasty debuted in 2001. It was pulled in 2010.

Angus currently represents the high end of McDonald’s menu, selling for $4 or more, depending on the toppings. The Big Mac, for example, was selling for $3.69 at an Evanston McDonald’s on Thursday.

The Angus faces stiff competition not only from other burgers on the McDonald’s menu, including the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, and the McDouble, which sells for $1 at most restaurants, but from the entire so-called better burger category, a subgenre of the fast-casual category specializing in never-frozen burgers made to order with a variety of toppings.

Tristano said that while the Angus could be “too premium for McDonald’s,” it also might not be the right burger to compete with these high-end rivals. “Angus may be too lean, not enough fat, not enough flavor to compete with the more indulgent burgers out there,” he said.