Why McDonald's Is Switching to Fresh Beef

McDonald's says it's switching from frozen beef to fresh in some 14,000 U.S. locations by early May. Photo by Remy Gabalda—AFP via Getty Images

Your Quarter Pounder may taste a little different in the coming weeks.

McDonald’s says it’s switching from frozen beef to fresh in some 14,000 U.S. locations by early May. The company officially rolled out the concept at 3,500 stores today. Sorry about your luck, Hawaii and Alaska. You’ll still get frozen beef.

It’s the latest in a series of moves by the chain (which have included dollar menus and removing antibiotics from its chicken) to woo customers as competition increases in the food industry.

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So what led to the decision? It certainly wasn’t a cost-saving strategy. Suppliers spent roughly $60 million to adjust for the transition and kitchens in restaurants had to be changed as well to create separate drawers for the patties. In the end, it came down to a few issues.

Changing consumer tastes

In recent years, consumers have shown a growing preference for fresh products overall, an offshoot of the “buy local” movement. The collective belief among restaurant-goers is that foods, once frozen, don’t taste quite as good. Whether that’s accurate or not, it’s affecting how diners select where they will eat.


Fresh beef cooks faster than frozen, which could cycle customers through faster. The downside, though, is many fresh burgers aren’t started until the customer places an order, whereas McDonald’s would historically cook batches of burgers in advance.

Whether fresh beef will result in a noticeable difference in service times is to be determined, but McDonald’s could use a pick-me-up in that department either way. The average service time at a McDonald’s drive-through in 2016 was 208.2 seconds, according to a study published by QSR magazine, an industry publication, using data from SeeLevel HX, an Atlanta-based business intelligence firm. That’s well behind industry leader Wendy’s at 169.1 seconds, according to the survey. Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC all beat McDonald’s too. Its average drive-through service time last year was almost 20 seconds slower than it was in 2012, according to SeeLevel HX data.


Wendy’s, Whataburger, and In-N-Out are three competitors that use fresh beef in their burgers—and they’re part of the reason McDonald’s has had 500 million fewer transactions at its U.S. stores since 2012. And one of the reasons for that is Wendy’s brutal marketing campaign highlighting its use of fresh beef versus McDonald’s. (“The iceberg that sank the Titanic was frozen, too,” one ad stated.)

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