To build a new salad blend, McDonald’s culinary and supply chain teams traveled to the fields of some of its lettuce suppliers, learning how the leaves are harvested and how suppliers maintain consistent growing techniques, which contributes to the flavor and quality of the fresh sun-ripened lettuce leaves. Warm, sunny days and cool nights are optimal for lettuces and the vast majority are harvested in Salinas Valley in California during the summer and Yuma, Arizona during the winter from farms, many of which have generations of experience.
McDonald’s restaurants receive produce 2-3 times each week and salads are freshly prepared every morning in the kitchen to ensure peak quality.
McDonald’s has a world-class culinary team composed of nutritionists, registered dietitians, and chefs who work to understand what customers want and then make sure the company delivers. In this case, customers told McDonald’s they didn’t want iceberg lettuce in their salads and favored a more colorful salad bowl. In 2015, the company made the change from iceberg lettuce to a salad blend of premium lettuces, including romaine and on-trend ingredients of baby kale and baby spinach.
“Color in produce is an expression of different nutrients,” said Jessica Foust, McDonald’s Chef and Registered Dietitian. “The new salad blend offers at least 2.5 cups of vegetables.”
Taylor Farms, Fresh Express, Ready Pac, and McEntire Produce supply the red and green lettuces for McDonald’s new salad blend.
Produce companies partner with McDonald’s to determine their needs for the coming season, so producers can make sure they are able to deliver. Once the lettuces are ready to be picked, harvesters begin in the wee hours of the day.
“We start around midnight or 1 a.m. when lettuce is crisp and fresh,” says Williams. “The greens are planted methodically to enable producers to harvest six days a week and is then cooled within four-six hours. Farm workers then feed greens through a sorter and then the greens are double-washed, fed through another sorter, and bagged right before being shipped to distribution centers that ship to the individual McDonald’s restaurants.”
With all the greens – and reds and oranges – sourced from McDonald’s network of produce farms, the culinary team convenes in its Oak Brook test kitchen to continuously innovate with its menu items.
“Creating a new recipe really starts from getting in the kitchen and then scaling from there,” says Foust, whose skills include both extensive in-the-kitchen experience and a registered dietician background. On the innovation team she collaborates with colleagues, brings the recipes to focus groups, and tests offerings in a smattering of restaurants.
So the next time you order one of McDonald’s tantalizing salads – whether it’s the Bacon Ranch Salad or the Southwest Salad – you’ll know you’re getting quality ingredients with a rainbow of Mother Nature’s colors.