McDonald's new chicken tender is a repeat of the Chicken Selects -- but this time, the fast-food giant says the menu item won't die

McDonald's TenderDennis GreenMcDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken seems like a replacement for Chicken Selects.
  • McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Tenders are basically Chicken Selects 2.0.
  • Chicken Selects were one of McDonald’s most celebrated menu items, but they were cut in 2015.
  • Buttermilk Crispy Tenders seem to be following a similar strategy to the Chicken Selects, and franchisees say that early sales are promising.
  • However, Chicken Selects were also once a bright spot on McDonald’s menu — so the new tenders’ success may be short-lived.

The rise and fall of McDonald’s Chicken Selects is one of the wildest emotional roller coaster rides in fast food.

Now, a new chicken tender has risen to take the Chicken Selects’ place on the McDonald’s menu: Buttermilk Crispy Tenders.

Chicken Selects were added to McDonald’s menu in 2002. The chain aggressively advertised the tenders, made with “premium-quality, 100 per cent white chicken breast meat.”

Mcdonald's chicken selectsMcDonald’s on FacebookMcDonald’s Chicken Selects

By 2004, McDonald’s had sold more than 65 million pounds of Chicken Selects across the US. The menu item was widely celebrated as a massive success (despite occasional jokes about the tenders’ phallic appearance).

“Chicken Selects have been a hit as the public has craved the health benefits of white meat,” a Seeking Alpha contributor wrote in 2008.

However, behind the scenes, the beloved chicken tender was in danger.

In 2013, Chicken Selects were cut from the menu. Inadequate sales of the chicken tenders, which were more expensive than other menu items, were theorised to be part of the reason.

A 2008 Wall Street Journal article stated that McDonald’s was looking for ways to use the Selects in more dishes so that they wouldn’t get cold from sitting out after employees prepared a batch. Ideally, if a fast-food item is selling in sufficient numbers, they won’t be in the kitchen long enough to get cold.

Still, demand continued on social media. The Selects returned for a limited time in 2015, but they disappeared again by the end of the year.

“[A]s a general practice we do not share externally sales of a specific menu item, but we do know that our customers have enjoyed this limited time offer,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told CNBC at the time.

McDonald's tenderDennis GreenMcDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken

This October, McDonald’s tried again. The fast-food chain recently debuted Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, which seem to be intended to fill the Chicken Selects-sized hole in customers’ hearts.

“When we say we are raising the bar on everything we do at McDonald’s that absolutely includes our approach to chicken,” McDonald’s spokesperson Becca Hary told Business Insider.

Hary continued: “Our customers expect and deserve more from us, which pushed us to not only pursue a buttermilk crispy tender option, but also ensure 100% white meat chicken with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. We are now also offering our most extensive line of dipping sauces ever with this new dish.”

All in all, it’s a very similar pitch to the Chicken Selects. Those, too, were intended to raise the bar as a more premium chicken option.

Buttermilk Crispy Tenders are basically Chicken Selects 2.0. McDonald’s says that they have made enough improvements — and added enough sauces — that these should stick around. Early response has been good, with franchisees telling Nomura’s Mark Kalinowski that the initial results prove the menu item’s potential to boost sales.

But, Chicken Selects were also once seen as a bright point on McDonald’s menu as well. Buttermilk Crispy Tenders are looking like a short-term success, but based on McDonald’s chicken tender history, its long-term survival may be less certain.

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