McDonald’s President Suggests It Might Not Need All Those Preservatives

Following a massive drop in sales, executives scramble to revamp the restaurant’s image—and consumers could reap the health benefits.

(Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

Dec 12, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

Don’t let Ronald’s permanent smile and creepy, sparkling eyes fool you—all is not well in the McDonald house. Indeed, things are going terribly for the multinational corporation, which just experienced its most prominent single-month drop in sales since 2000.

CEO Don Thompson and McDonald’s USA president Mike Andres addressed a group of wealthy, panicked investors at a meeting in Oak Brook, Ill., on Wednesday, and they proposed some uncharacteristic changes that might boost McDonald’s public image.

For starters—and this is a colossal starter—Andres suggested abandoning the use of preservatives. “Why do we need to have preservatives in our food?” he asked. “We probably don’t.” He pointed out that the restaurants go through supplies so quickly that preservatives may not be necessary anymore.

McDonald’s use of preservatives has been a big issue in its latest marketing campaign, “Our Food. Your Questions.” It brings in MythBusters alum Grant Imahara to debunk some infamous Mickey D’s food myths. The only indication that Imahara is being paid by McDonald’s is a legally mandatory insignia reading “#ad” on the company’s YouTube channel.

The amount of transparency in the video series reveals some things that are, well, pretty unappetizing. The “What are McRib patties made of?” video shows a lab technician emptying an industrial-size bag of white powder into a churning vat of ground pork. When Imahara asks about the contents of the bag, Kevin Manke, vice president of the pork processing company, responds bluntly—he has clearly been asked this question before.

“The only thing that’s in the McRib patty is pork, water, salt, dextrose, which is a type of sugar, and preservatives, which are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), propyl gallate, and citric acid,” Manke explains.

He had me up until “butylated hydroxianisole.” The video has been polarizing for consumers—it has almost equal amounts of likes and dislikes.

Andres also plans to reduce McDonald’s total ingredient list, which would help eliminate the need for preservatives, and would also create a simpler menu. According to the Associated Press, McDonald’s will reduce its total number of Value Meals from 16 to 11 as early as next month. It also plans on eighty-sixing up to 10 additional items, which have yet to be disclosed.

If Andres and Thompson follow through on these promises and continue with efforts at transparency that don’t completely gross people out, it could usher in a new age of trust between consumers and McDonald’s.

But the question remains: How will their burgers taste without that signature propyl gallate flavor?