Garlic fries with a Grand Mac? McDonald's tests new dishes

Think of McDonald's (MCD), and an iconic Big Mac and fries may spring to mind. But across the U.S., the fast-food giant is testing new ingredients and dishes as it tries to keep customers coming back to the Golden Arches.

McDonald's has always tested new dishes, but the heat is turning up on the fast-food giant. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company is in the process of emerging from a multi-year slump, when diners snubbed its restaurants and Consumer Reports named its burgers as the "worst in America."

Since October, McDonald's has been sizzling, thanks to CEO Steve Easterbook's decision to roll out all-day breakfast across the U.S. The company is also focusing on revitalizing its menu by simplifying it and sourcing better-quality ingredients, such as cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken. Easterbrook noted in a conference call last month that the company is investing in testing potential new menu items.

"We're having these test markets and test regions to further explore and learn," he said on an investor conference call in April. "At the moment, the enthusiasm is great."

Investors are eating up McDonald's new approach. The stock has gained almost 10 percent so far this year, compared with a less than 1 percent increase for the S&P 500 index.

But McDonald's is also facing more competition from nimbler rivals, ranging from Panera Bread (PNRA) to Shake Shack (SHAK), which are luring consumers with menus that many diners consider fresher and of a higher quality. McDonald's is targeting a customer base that may be more sensitive to costs than the typical Shake Shack customer, but who increasingly want to eat foods made without artificial ingredients.

So what exactly is McDonald's testing? The newest twist on an old classic is garlic fries, which is being tested in a few restaurants in the San Francisco area. The new dish involves fries tossed in a mix of Gilroy garlic -- garlic that's grown in the California town of Gilroy -- olive oil, Parmesan, parsley and salt. The dish has reportedly received positive feedback and it may be expanded to 250 Bay Area locations in August, according to Eater.com.

"We're always evolving our menu and providing our customers with new and exciting food innovations specific to their region," a spokeswoman said. "Tests allow us to gain valuable customer feedback to help drive future innovations."

Those innovations even include new approaches to the most iconic McDonald's dish of all: the Big Mac. The company is testing a super-sized version of the burger in Ohio and Texas called the "Grand Mac." Not to overlook those with smaller appetites, the chain is testing a smaller Big Mac in those same states called the Mac Jr.

Below is a list of dishes that are currently being tested at regional McDonald's locations:

  • Egg White and Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bowl (California)
  • Scrambled Egg and Chorizo Breakfast Bowl (California)
  • Gilroy Garlic Fries (California)
  • Chobani Greek Yogurt in McDonald's Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfaits and McCafé Smoothies (California)
  • Chicken McNuggets without artificial preservatives (Oregon)
  • Grand Mac, which is a Big Mac with a bigger bun and patties (Ohio & Texas)
  • Mac Jr., which is a Big Mac without the middle bun and only one patty (Ohio & Texas)
  • Chicken McGriddle, a McChicken on maple-flavored pancakes instead of a bun (Ohio)
  • Mighty Wings (Atlanta)
  • Sweet Potato Fries (Texas)