McDonald's Angus Angle

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) appears to be continuing its exploration into movings its menu options upscale. Reuters has reported that Mickey D's is testing new and improved burgers in some Los Angeles restaurants.

Many of us grew up on McDonald's flat, identical existing burgers, but the newfangled ones being tested feature higher-quality Angus beef and fancier toppings like Swiss cheese and mushrooms. The new burgers are getting their trial run in six Golden Arches in L.A.

McDonald's has obviously done well with its traditional burgers -- you know, billions and billions served, and all that. But these fancier burgers would command heftier prices. They apparently cost $3.39 to $3.99, downright luxurious by McDonald's normal burger standards. (Good old-fashioned McDonald's hamburgers and cheeseburgers remain a buck a pop on the restaurant's dollar menu.)

The Reuters article pointed out that should the company expand this test to other restaurants, and make the Angus burgers a permanent menu option -- the company said it has no plans as of yet, although customer response so far has been positive -- it could ultimately take on rivals Burger King (NYSE: BKC  ) , CKE Restaurants' (NYSE: CKR  ) Hardee's, and Wendy's (NYSE: WEN  ) , all of which have offered some degree of larger, fancier, even more decadent burgers to tempt fast food fans' palates. (Think Hardee's Monster Thickburger, which Fool contributor Brian Gorman covered in 2004 in all its monstrous glory.)

McDonald's injected innovation into its menu in recent years, including offering an alternative to its super-processed Chicken McNuggets with the heartier Chicken Selects premium strips. (Those who suppose that McDonald's purists might balk at fancier burgers should note that Chicken Selects, even with their higher price point, were a notable success. They enjoy continued life in the company's new wraps offerings.) McDonald's has also made salads and fruit available as Americans pay greater attention to their own expanding girths -- not to mention public pressure and high-profile media criticisms like Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation.

Having Angus burgers on Mickey D's menu may seem a bit strange, considering that most of us probably have a very distinctive idea of what a McDonald's hamburger is. Unlike its chicken, McDonald's signature hamburgers are iconic, perhaps even corporate America's equivalent of "American like apple pie." These sorts of attempted revamps can sometimes misfire; who can forget Coca-Cola's (NYSE: KO  ) unsuccessful bid to replace Coke with "new" Coke in the '80s?

Given the work McDonald's has done this year, though, not to mention its successful turnaround, the decision will have to make good business sense by appealing to customers' taste buds. After all, McDonald's management vows to be better, not just bigger. Whether this strategy will include a bigger, better burger alongside its traditional flat patties remains to be seen.

What's been on the menu at McDonald's, investing-wise? Check out the following Foolish articles:

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


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