McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) has struggled to create a chicken finger that equals the popularity of its beloved McNuggets. That's not for lack of trying, as its Chicken Select Tenders were a permanent menu item from 2002 to 2013. After being dropped, they were brought back in 2015, winning some fans, but not being popular enough to stick around.
The failure of one chicken tender, however, does not mean that McDonald's has abandoned the idea of having a chicken finger variant on its menu.
Indeed, the company has been quietly testing a new Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tender in parts of Alabama, reported AL.com. That followed a similar test in March in the Charlotte, N.C., area.
What is McDonald's doing?
The fast-food company often tests products in out-of-the-way markets to gauge popularity. If diners like them, more tests will be done, and for very successful products a regional or national launch may follow.
In this case, testing of the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders has advanced to the point that the item has a page on the company's website. According to that page, the tenders come in a variety of sizes with the four-piece order having 480 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 1,290 mg of sodium. That's, of course, before you add one of the eight available dipping sauces, including two new ones, spicy sriracha and sweet and tangy.
McDonald's will be selling the 100% white meat tenders, which are marinated and battered with buttermilk and a spice blend, in four-, six-, and 10-piece sizes for $3.99, $5.99, and $9.49. Combo meals with the new item will be offered as well.
"We had had tenders in the past, chicken fingers in the past, that just didn't meet expectations," Jason Black, a Birmingham-area McDonald's franchisee, told AL.com. "We had such success with the buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich that we thought we should try that with the tender recipe, and it seems to be working."
What might this mean for business?
McDonald's has been tweaking its menu, doing things like offering new versions of its signature Big Mac and adding the Signature Crafted burger line. The goal of these efforts is to find familiar, but perhaps slightly higher-end, versions of some of its popular menu items.
Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders aren't pheasant under glass or even chicken cordon bleu, but they are a bit of an upgrade from Chicken McNuggets. This type of menu item may lure in more adults and help the chain nudge its menu toward a different clientele.
McDonald's has been behind some of its key rivals, especially Restaurant Brands International's Burger King and Yum! Brands' Taco Bell, when it comes to menu innovation. That's partly because the Golden Arches has largely shied away from pure stunt foods that mash up menu items with popular snack chips or breakfast cereals.
It's unlikely that a chicken finger will be a sensation like Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos, but the new chicken tenders have a chance to be another incremental step forward for a brand looking to add slightly higher-end items to its menu with more appeal to adults.