McDonald’s franchisees try a chicken burger

Tampa Bay's McDonald's operators have revealed their next weapon in the fast-food fight: the chicken burger.

The chicken burger is the brainchild of 37 McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) operators in the Tampa Bay region and chefs from Pennsylvania-based Keystone Foods, which is McDonald's chicken supplier.

To drum up interest in the new offering, the McDonald's operators bought billboard advertising throughout the region that showed a spatula and a mysterious countdown to #FlippinAwesome.

Made from a 50/50 blend of white and dark ground chicken, the burger comes in two varieties: the Classic (red onions, lettuce, tomatoes and ranch sauce) and the Signature (grilled onions with lettuce, tomatoes and a tangy and sweet “signature” sauce). Both come on a new "gourmet" bun, according to McDonald's.

The burger is an obvious play for more health-conscious consumers that have shied away from McDonald's in recent years. Its marketing materials tout that both the Classic and Signature burger have 28 grams of protein; the Classic has 390 calories, while the Signature has 400 calories.

McDonald's is at a pivotal time. Despite new corporate leadership, sales are down companywide, as the fast-food giant faces competition from a plethora of other concepts — from sexier names like Shake Shack to fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle that allow for the customization millennial consumers demand.

The chicken burger is an offering that could appeal to loyal McDonald's customers and lure in new ones, said Blake Casper, CEO of Caspers Co., which operates 53 McDonald's franchises in the area. There are about 200 McDonald's stores in the Tampa Bay area, 30 to 40 of which are corporate owned.

"It’s a product that may cause people to think about McDonald’s in a different way," Casper wrote in an email. "Ultimately, anyone that likes a good burger is our target for this product."

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