Why McDonald's New 'Artisan' Chicken Just Won't Work

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Nam Y. Huh/AP

There's a new chicken offering coming to McDonald's (MCD). The world's largest burger chain is rolling out "artisan" chicken, hoping to make it seem as if a chain with more than 36,000 locations can somehow mass-produce gourmet fare.

It gets worse.

"Made in our kitchen with ingredients from yours," begins the pitch on posters popping up across the country, promoting the new grilled chicken product that's available in sandwiches, wraps, and salads. The posters go on to promote that the poultry has been seasoned with "pantry herbs and spices," a suggestion that's already garnering more snickers than foodie cred. After all, it's already a pretty creepy marketing image to find Ronald McDonald raiding one's pantry for the garlic, salt and parsley used to seasoned the grilled chicken.

Giving Angus and Sirloin a Bad Name

You can't blame McDonald's for trying. It's going to use words and terms that sell, even if the very association with the cheap burger chain often takes the monikers down with it. Remember when Angus referred to a high-quality cut of beef? Then McDonald's introduced Angus burgers. Now the chain is promoting Sirloin Third Pound Burgers, and it's a fair bet that a few taste tests into the process, the word "sirloin" is about to become the next cheap-chic debasement victim.

McDonald's loves to position its products as something else. The online menu at McDonalds.com has no less than a dozen fish and chicken items with the word "Premium" in the title. There are also items designated as "Steakhouse" or "Clubhouse" even though the public knows that there's little on the actual menu that could pass for fancy chophouse or country club fare.

If McDonald's can run loose with the definition of Angus, sirloin, premium, steakhouse and clubhouse, why wouldn't "artisan" be the next foodie term to toss into its ammo bag? There don't seem to be any members of the foodie police checking the chain.

Defining Desperation

Dictionary.com defines "artisan" as "a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods." Only some of that rings true here. Obviously this "artisan" grilled chicken isn't being made in small batches.

McDonald's knows that it's coloring outside of the lines, but it doesn't have much of a choice. Comparable-restaurant sales have posted year-over-year declines for six consecutive quarters in the U.S. market, and things are so bad that the chain just announced that it will no longer be reporting its monthly sales metrics. When you have nothing nice to say ...

However, one can also argue that McDonald's will get it right sooner or later. The art of perpetual reinvention may at some point stumble across a hit product that wins back the hungry defectors. It could very well be this artisan grilled chicken fillet. However, since sales have been stumbling even as it spins the wheel of foodie terms, it seems as if consumer tastes are getting a little more jaded with every turn.

The only real artisans at McDonald's these days, it seems, are the aspirational marketers.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to make 2015 a winning investment year? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

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