Tag Archives: McDonald

The Father of the Chicken Nugget

We think we know the chicken nugget: small, salty, and spongy, derided by Michael Pollan and reviled by Jamie Oliver, who recreated them on camera by whizzing a chicken in a food processor and forcing it through a sieve. We know that children adore them, that parents are conflicted about them, that public-health campaigners despise them for sparking an epidemic of obesity. We know we can’t get away from them: There are nuggets at almost every fast-food chain, on almost every restaurant kids’ menu, and in almost every supermarket freezer: breaded or naked; fried or grill-marked; gluten-free or organic; shaped like alphabets, dinosaurs, or stars.

We know almost everything about chicken nuggets, except who is responsible for them.

Credit, or blame, usually goes to McDonald’s, which sold its first McNuggets in 1980. But the probable inventor of the nugget is a Cornell University professor named Robert C. Baker who died in 2006, and who proposed a prototype—a frozen, breaded “chicken stick”—in 1963.

Baker was a professor of poultry science, and a chicken savant. He and his graduate students dreamed up the first versions of products we now take for granted: chicken hot dogs, chicken cold cuts, chicken meatballs, and more than 50 other edible items made from eggs and chicken but made to look like something else.

The foods they invented, which they detailed in widely distributed bulletins for anyone to copy and refine, launched what the industry now calls “further processed” poultry. Convenient and appealing, further-processed products transformed the market for chicken, pushing consumption from 34 pounds per person in 1965 to 84 pounds last year. But pressure from that new demand transformed the industry as well, turning it from a loose confederation of many family farms into a small set of massive conglomerates with questionable labor and environmental records.

It’s a mixed legacy for a man who wanted only to increase the market power of upstate New York’s poultry farmers—men whose families have since left the business, because the changes wrought by nuggets made it unprofitable. “I think you have to understand him as a person of his time,” Baker’s oldest son Dale, now 66, told me. “He grew up in the Depression, not having enough food to eat. When he’d buy a dinner, he would want to get the most calories for the price. He wanted to be sure the farmers would get the best prices for their birds.”

The accepted history of the chicken nugget is told, with slight differences, in The Omnivore’s DilemmaFast Food Nationand Behind the Arches, a 1986 chronicle of McDonald’s that the corporation cooperated with (and sent me, when I asked them for comment). The origin story goes like thisMcDonald’s began with burgers, of course. But in 1977, the federal government’s first-ever dietary guidelines urged Americans to eat less fat, and especially less red meat. Burger sales dropped, and McDonald’s began looking for an alternative that would keep customers loyal. Its executives thought their best chance lay in chicken, the lower-fat protein that Americans were choosing instead, and the company plunged into intense product research, even hiring a European chef who had cooked for the Queen of England to contribute ideas. Test customers spurned one attempt, an experimental chicken pot-pie; the next idea, bone-in fried chicken, veered too close to the existing menu at rival KFC.

McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc ordered the chef, Rene Arend, to work on yet another product—deep-fried onion chunks, easier to mass-produce than rings—but was countermanded by the company chairman, Fred Turner. Turner still wanted something made from chicken, and he steered the chef to chicken chunks instead. Arend boned a chicken breast, cut it into small pieces, battered and fried the bits, and served them with a sauce. They were a hit within headquarters, but too labor-intensive to make on an industrial scale.

McDonald’s recruited corporate partners into a secret development campaign, calling on     frozen-hamburger supplier Keystone Foods to mechanize chicken-chopping and fish-stick popularizer Gorton’s to perfect a coating that would cling. McNuggets debuted without advance warning in 15 Knoxville, Tenn., McDonald’s restaurants in March 1980 and blasted through the stores’ sales records. Word of the new product spread so quickly among franchisees that Keystone built a processing plant in 100 days to keep up with the expected demand. When they rolled out nationwide in 1981, McNuggets became a cultural juggernaut.

What this story leaves out is that, 18 years earlier, Baker had come up with the same concept, for different reasons.

Baker grew up on a small fruit farm a few miles from Lake Ontario, and seems to have planned to go into the family business: His bachelor’s degree, from Cornell, was in fruit agriculture. He aspired to be a Cornell professor, but his widow, Jacoba, remembers his mentors advising him to work somewhere else first. He took a position as a cooperative extension agent—a liaison between land-grant universities and local communities. After earning a master’s in marketing at Penn State, Baker went to Purdue University for a Ph.D. in food science. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1949, and set up a poultry-products technology lab 10 years later.

At the time, poultry farmers were stymiedThe need to feed troops during World War II had spurred reorganization in the industry, as well as improvements in chicken genetics and feed—all of which increased the amount of poultry that farmers could raise. After the war, the ability to produce birds remained high, but demand dropped. Homemakers were less interested in buying them than the military had been, because for a home cook, chickens were inconvenient. They were usually sold whole, though some store butchers would cut them up to order, and they were usually cooked by oven-roasting or pan-frying. Those methods were either time-consuming or messy, and a bad fit for the schedules of women moving into postwar office jobs. Steve Striffler, an anthropology professor at the University of New Orleans who wrote a history of chicken production, says that because chickens weren’t sought after, prices slid so low they began to undermine the industry.

The industry needed to do something to raise poultry’s desirability. What, exactly, wasn’t obvious.

Robert C. Baker around 1979.

Enter Baker. The first experiments to emerge from his basement laboratory in Cornell’s Bruckner Hall involved making eggs more attractive: He marketed small ones as a treat for children in a “Kids Pak Egg Carton” and trialed an extra-eggy frozen French toast. Then he turned to chicken, making hot dogs, canned hash, and frozen meatloaf out of hens too old to lay eggs. He market-tested each thoroughly, varying the packaging, introducing the products into local stores with and without advertising, and measuring sales as weeks went by.

Baker’s prototype nugget, developed with student Joseph Marshall, mastered two food-engineering challenges: keeping ground meat together without putting a skin around it, and keeping batter attached to the meat despite the shrinkage caused by freezing and the explosive heat of frying. They solved the first problem by grinding raw chicken with salt and vinegar to draw out moisture, and then adding a binder of powdered milk and pulverized grains. They solved the second by shaping the sticks, freezing them, coating them in an eggy batter and cornflake crumbs, and then freezing them a second time to -10 degrees. With trial and error, the sticks stayed intact. Baker, Marshall, and three other colleagues came up with an attractive box, designed a dummy label, and made enough of the sticks to sell them for 26 weeks in five local supermarkets. In the first 6 weeks, they sold 200 boxes per week.

The whole process—recipe, box design, sales records, even predictions of how much it would cost to add a chicken-stick manufacturing line to a poultry processing plant—was described in the Cornell publication Agricultural Economics Research in April 1963. The publication was one of several food-science bulletins that the university distributed free of charge for decades. No one can say now to whom they went. “They were mailed to about 500 companies,” said Robert Gravani, a Cornell professor of food science, who studied for his doctorate under Baker and then joined the department that his mentor led. “He literally gave ideas away, and other people patented them.”

Baker consulted for food companies as well, and, according to Gravani, a number of graduate students went on to high industry positions. A McDonald’s representative said there is no record of contact with him. Keeping the batter attached and maintaining flavor would have been issues for any company that wanted to sell processed chicken, according to Bill Roenigk, chief economist and market analyst with the trade group the National Chicken Council. Baker’s publications might well have gone into companies’ archives, he said, and then, “when food technologists sat down to examine those issues, they pulled out his research bulletins and said, ‘OK, where do we go from here?’ ”

Baker never made any money from the billions of nuggets that have been sold over the past three decades. By the time he died in 2006, his connection to them had mostly been forgotten, and only few obituaries noted it. Even at Cornell, he is best-known for a barbecue sauce that is a staple of firehouse fundraisers; every summer, his daughters run a much-loved barbecue stand at the New York State Fair where “Cornell chicken” is their most popular plate.

Given nuggets’ later reputation, that might be fortunate. A New York State judge called the McNugget a “McFrankenstein creation” in 2003. Videos of ostensible nugget stuff—“mechanically separated chicken,” a flesh-pink paste being forced out of a grinding machine—come up so high in Google searches that both Snopes.com and the National Chicken Council devote pages to debunking the notion that nuggets are made of it. (Mechanically separated chicken may have been an ingredient in early commercial nuggets—it extracts the maximum amount of meat from carcasses, and Baker used it in other products—but McDonald’s changed its recipe in 2003 to use white-meat pieces, and the rest of the industry followed. The National Chicken Council says the paste now appears only in hot dogs and lunch meat.)

Baker’s family prefers to think of him as someone who did his job thoughtfully and with pride, and who could not have predicted the consequences.

“When he was doing this, it was looked at as progress: producing more food, more cheaply,” Dale said. “For his era, he was extremely successful. But things change; times change. I don’t eat Chicken McNuggets, myself.”

Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2012/12/robert_c_baker_the_man_who_invented_chicken_nuggets.single.html


Bad taste chickens?

Where did the Chicken go after it crossed the road? To McDonald’s, apparently. The fast food giant has launched a campaign for its new range of burgers fronted by people with the last name Chicken.

The campaign, called ‘Meet the Chickens’, introduces its new range of chicken burgers which include the McGrilled, the McChamp and the McSpicy. It features ads fronted by a group of 20 people with the last name Chicken, all of whom have given their “seal of approval” to the new range.

The light-hearted launch ad shows the Chickens all crossing the road together, and even one Chicken falling prey to an office prank of an egg on his chair.

The campaign was created by DDB New Zealand, with most of the Chickens hailing from New Zealand, such as Emma and Maureen Chicken. Jodie Chicken from Victoria is the only local resident featured in the ad. It launched on the weekend and is running heavily across television and the McDonald’s Facebook page.

Who knew there were that many people with the last name Chicken?

What do you think of the campaign? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Hoops and Wings


At America’s sports bars, chicken wings are as essential to basketball as man-to-man defense and the three-point shot.

But as this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament rolls ahead, the cruel economics of the chicken wing are squeezing restaurant chains and putting upward pressure on prices for customers.

With breeding advances, the size of America’s chickens — and their wings — is relentlessly rising. As CEO Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings recently explained to stock analysts: “Five wings yield more ounces of chicken than six used to.”

Sounds like good news for wing joints, right? No clucking way. Chains like Chains like Buffalo Wild Wings sell by the unit — a six-piece plate with fries and a beer anyone? — but buy by the pound. Take one wing away, even if the rest are meatier, and customers might not be happy.

The average chicken carcass nowadays is almost 50 percent bigger than it was 30 years ago. But, as agribusiness consultant Len Steiner put it, an 8-pound bruiser of a bird “still has only two wings.”Buffalo Wild Wings sell by the unit — a six-piece plate with fries and a beer anyone? — but buy by the pound. Take one wing away, even if the rest are meatier, and customers might not be happy.

Wholesale wing prices soared 76 percent on average in 2012 over 2011, hitting highs not seen in at least 20 years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Other factors are also pressuring prices, particularly last year’s drought. It drove up the price of corn, the main component of chicken feed, which is the biggest cost in raising a bird. Chicken farmers cut back on their flocks, tightening wing supply.

And demand is growing, driven in part by the success of fast-growing Wild Wings, which is based in Golden Valley. Even fast-food behemoth McDonald’s is testing wings.

Chicken wings have gotten into so many restaurant concepts that it’s put a real strain on [supply],” said Steiner, who cowrites the Daily Livestock Report for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Improved breeding

The advance of chicken technology is on display at the barn near Rice, Minn., where David Schumann raises birds for the Upper Midwest’s largest producer, GNP Co.

Schumann is one of about 400 farmers, mostly in Minnesota, who raise chickens for St. Cloud-based GNP. Like most GNP farmers, he has only one barn and also raises something else — in his case, cattle.

He and his wife, Tracy Scapanski-Schumann, run the chicken barn with a computer’s aid. Water rations, feed flow and air temperature — chicks like it hot, older birds not so much — are all automated.

Currently, their 37,440-square-foot barn houses 53,000 birds who turn 12 days old on Sunday. By about April 26, they’ll be ready for shipment to one of GNP’s two processing plants, and a new flock will arrive soon after. Nowadays, it takes about 42 days to grow a 5-pound bird, com

pared with about 60 days three decades ago, said Bill Lanners, GNP’s director of live strategies.

Credit the chicken breeding companies. “They use some pretty amazing technology,” Lanners said. The breeders are not relying on genetic manipulation. It’s a matter of using science to select chickens with the best genetic stock.

The pace of genetic improvement generally cuts a bird’s time to market by one day per year. Plus, chickens increasingly require less feed to produce the same amount of meat. And they can grow bigger, particularly if they’re fed for longer periods of time.

In the past decade, the average weight of a chicken carcass has grown 16 percent, according to data from Steiner and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That comes after a 15 percent gain from 1993 to 2003 and an 11 percent increase during the prior decade.

The gains are driven by superbirds. “Big bird deboners are pushi

ng up bird size dramatically,” said GNP’s sales and service director Brian Roelofs, referring to 8 pounders that are deboned and sold in pieces.

Small, medium, large birds

The chicken market is carved into three portions: small bird (roughly 4 pounds), medium (roughly 6 pounds) and large (roughly 8 pounds).

Chicken chains like KFC and Popeyes rely on small birds. The medium bird is big in supermarket coolers, where GNP’s Gold’n Plump brand is found throughout the Twin Cities.

Along with trays of fresh chicken breasts, GNP sells wings by the pack. Some basic chicken math helps spell out the wing dilemma. A tray pack of four breasts requires two chickens, but a pack of 18 wings requires nine chickens.

So the smaller bird markets — GNP’s bread-and-butter — just d

on’t generate enough chicken wings at low enough prices for big purchasers like Buffalo Wild Wings, Roelofs said.

That’s where the superbird business — centered in the South — comes in, knocking out a huge supply of chicken pieces, including wings. The larger birds make economic sense, despite the wing market quirk.

They cost less per pound to produce and yield more precious breast meat, a consumer favorite, which can be fashioned into all sorts of things: chicken tenders or nuggets, “boneless” chicken wings and chicken breast sandwiches at restaurants.

The bigger the bird, the better for breast meat production. And with plenty of big birds, that means plenty of wings that are then scarfed up by wing buyers like Buffalo Wild Wings — and, for that matter, Joe Blow’s wing joint down the block.

Test marketing

It’s high wing season now. While the Super Bowl marks Buffalo Wild Wing’s biggest sales day, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is its busiest period each year, and Wild Wingers are likely paying more for wings this tournament season. The company, to deal with its own rising costs, raised prices across its entire menu by about 4 percent last fall.

It also began devising ways to cope with the issue of bigger wings. The firm is testing changes in wing portions at 64 of its approximately 900 U.S. restaurants.

Wild Wings declined to make an executive available for comment for this story.

But during a conference call with stock analysts last month, Wild Wings executives talked about servings centered on ounces, instead of pieces, of meat. “We have been testing different ounces of meat in let’s say the single, double [servings],” CEO Sally Smith told analysts.

That means five wings are sometimes sold in a small order instead of six.

Asked if customers are pushing back, Smith said no. “I think a lot of it has to do with how we explain to our guests, whether we say, OK, today we are serving five wings for a small order or six wings and making sure that … [the] guest understands.”

Still, getting the equation right has been “a little more difficult than we anticipated,” Smith said. “It’s been really difficult to have a consistent … message or consistent number of wings to the guests.”

Source: http://m.startribune.com/news/?id=199712761

Fast food chicken goes boneless for a new generation

KFC’s traditional menu, chicken legs, wings, thighs and breasts with bones are on their way out.

But why? Perhaps Colonel Sanders and the KFC concept needs revamping since it lacks fast food competitor Popeye’s’ urban, Louisiana flavor and appeal.

Kentucky Fried Chicken’s cursory announcement that bones may be eliminated from its time honored menu should have Colonel Sanders rolling over in his secret recipe mix. Still, the menu switch up may be great news for KFC competitors like Church’s and Popeye’s.

All three chains have built their companies on its crispy chicken recipes and meals. Traditionally, meal boxes are boned pieces of white and dark meat.

KFC says its decision to go boneless is a response to a generation of consumers who grew up on chicken nuggets, but McDonald’s introduced the chicken McNugget almost 30 years ago.

Since then, a number of chains have picked up on the American trend for buffalo wings, most international Pizza chains serve boned wings. Zaxby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are favorite stops with younger generations. Chik-a-Filet serves boneless sandwiches and most fast food burger chains sell boneless pieces and sandwiches too.

KFC only introduced boneless strips and bites to its menu a year ago. KFC boneless premieres April 14 only in the U.S ; both white and dark meat portions are available. But the boneless menu may have more to do with portion, than bones.

Today’s younger generation and younger families are eating healthier. They’re eating smaller portions of healthy foods more, rather than large servings of foods with fats, cholesterol and other precursors to heart disease and diabetes.

To further the argument, New York City went as far crafting a ban on soda sales of bottles larger than 16 oz in its restaurants.

After an internet photo of a large pink slimey goo said to be the “meat” for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, McDonald’s dropped the pink slime ingredient used to makes it boneless chicken and hamburger meat.

In 2011, a consumer launched a lawsuit against Taco Bell. The lawsuit claimed that fillers in its meat products decreased nutritional value.

For a number of reasons, whether or not KFC boneless menu is really targeted to the younger generation is a legitimate question pondered briefly on MSNMoney. But fast food presidents aren’t typically as people concerned as they are profit driven.

Earlier this month, Popeye’s US president lashed out against mandated health insurance legislation and offered that many of his full-time employees may reduce hours in order to avoid paying health insurance. It doesn’t appear likely the fast food conglomerate will consider raising employee salaries.

Source: http://www.huliq.com/10178/did-mcnuggets-generation-really-prompt-kfc-menu-change