McDonald’s Big Mac given tweaks on Jr. and Grand scales

On its 50th birthday, the Big Mac is getting a makeover — in fact, two. For a limited time, the legendary burger is available in a bigger and smaller size as the Grand Mac and Mac Jr.

In focus groups, consumers told McDonald’s that they love the Big Mac but wanted a different experience, said chef Mike Haracz, manager of culinary innovation at McDonald’s in the United States, who was in Pittsburgh last week.

“I’d say half the people we talked to wanted a bigger Big Mac, half of them wanted a smaller one. So we have the Grand Mac and the Mac Jr. for them.”

Mac Jr. is a single-layer Big Mac featuring a 1/6-pound beef patty, one slice American cheese, shredded lettuce, diced onions, two pickles and the Big Mac sauce, all stacked on a sesame seed bun. While the Big Mac packs 540 calories, the smaller version is 460; it loses 80 calories by shedding the middle bun and extra meat.

The Grand Mac, on the other hand, offers two heftier meat patties weighing in at one-third of a pound, two slices of cheese and a larger bun. It boasts a whopping 860 calories. Still, it’s not the largest burger concoction on the fast-food market. That prize goes to Hardee’s for its 1,340-calorie beast: the 2/3-pound Monster Thickburger.

“Obviously you have some consumers who want a more substantial meal and the Grand Mac does that,” Haracz said.

Grand Mac and Mac Jr. have been available nationwide since Jan. 18. In Pittsburgh, which was a test market, the two new burgers have been on menus since November.

The Big Mac is such an iconic burger, Haracz said, that he expects people seeking different sizes to be drawn to the new burgers. But millennials might feel differently. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that only one in five millennials has ever tried a Big Mac. And the company’s earnings slipped even after the fast-food giant introduced an all-day breakfast menu.

Haracz, however, is optimistic. Given the different Big Mac sizes available, McDonald’s will target new millennials and more new customers in general, he said.

How a burger is born

How does the world’s largest restaurant come up with a new sandwich? A lot of research goes into the creative process, which can last from six months to two years. A team of chefs, food scientists, nutritionists, product developers and marketing staff look closely at what customers want through numerous focus groups, feedback on social media, consumer learning tests and blind evaluations as well as relevant food trends.

Taste, food safety, price and quality of ingredients also are taken into account.

Once the new product is created, the operations department trains the kitchen crews and makes sure everything can be executed properly. Both on the regional and local levels, the staff is trained from the top down from store managers to the crew.

“The development process is a finely tuned machine,” Haracz said. “There is not one person or one discipline that will drive any project. It is a team collaboration.”

When it comes to the kitchen, things have evolved since the McDonald brothers pioneered the “speedee system” in the 1940s. But a fast, efficient flow is still essential as customers want a meal within 90 seconds.

“We don’t reference the speedee system so much anymore but it is that mentality whenever we develop something new,” Haracz said. “We even look at how many steps a crew person needs to take to get something. If it’s too far away that might be very difficult because we have 14,000 restaurants. Times that by the amount of employees, that’s a lot of foot traveling that could be optimized.”

The process of building a sandwich is just as precise. Each item on the menu has a picture that shows the exact ingredients and the order in which they need to be incorporated. When a Mac Jr. is assembled, the sesame seed bun is first toasted for 22 seconds. The bun is then placed on a warm counter on the wrapper that it will be packaged in. The burger is built from the crown up and then wrapped, meaning that all the cold ingredients — the Big Mac sauce, onions, lettuce, pickles and slice of cheese — go on first. The meat goes on last.

“We’re building left to right. All the hot food is at the end because we want that to stay hot as long as possible,” Haracz said.

Besides the core menu items such as the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder and Chicken McNuggets, regional and limited offers also are available. Gilroy Garlic Fries fill the menus in California, lobster roll is available on the East Coast, a variety of barbecue sauces are handed out in the South, while the Shamrock Shake and seasonal pies are in and out of the menu.

Regional owner operators have a big influence and can vote on what to include on their menus, so not everything is up to the corporate office.

But the Big Mac is “still the first menu choice on McDonald’s menu today,” said Nick Delligatti, great-grandson of Jim Delligatti, who invented the iconic sandwich at his McDonald’s in Uniontown in 1967 and died in November.

“It’s pretty incredible to say that he created a sandwich that 50 years later it’s still a sandwich that people are eating today in a restaurant,” he said.

As for his great-grandfather, Delligatti said, he would probably go for the Grand Mac.