If you’ve ever wanted a caprese sandwich (tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil inside some bread) with the wholly unnecessary addition of cream cheese, McDonald’s might soon grant your wish. The chain is currently testing a slew of new items, one of which is called a Pesto Mozzarella Melt.
A McDonald’s spokesperson tells Eater the sandwich is made from “a baby spinach and kale blend, sliced tomato, mozzarella cheese, and a pesto cream cheese spread.” The caprese-inspired combination was tested in several restaurants in Southern California last week. CNBC reports the sandwich retailed for $4.99.
YouTube reviewer Peep This Out said the sandwich was available with chicken, and is “very rich,” thanks to the pesto sauce, which he called “the star of the show” (so much so that it apparently masks many of the other flavors).
Of course, a traditional caprese sandwich (which the melt seems to be modeled after) requires fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, and though McDonald’s buys a lot of tomatoes these tend not to be good-quality tomatoes. Of note: Caprese typically does not contain cream cheese. So, McDonald’s take on this Italian classic seems to be more of a chicken sandwich with caprese components.
Though just a test at this point, the sandwich is also a noted distraction from the chain’s bread and butter: burgers. With upstarts like Shake Shack and regional fan favorites like In-n-Out and Whataburger creeping in on its market share, the 61-year-old chain is under pressure to remove additives and antibiotics and serve burgers made from fresh — not frozen — meat. A handful of stores have been testing fresh, rather than frozen beef, but some franchisees have argued fresh beef could spell disaster for the chain in terms of food safety.
According to restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski, the Pesto Mozzarella Melt isn’t the only item McDonald’s is testing. Other items include “fresh-baked muffins in much of New England (in three varieties: cranberry-orange, blueberry, and pumpkin), and Frozen Coke (as well as Frozen Wild Cherry Fanta and Frozen Blue Raspberry Fanta) in parts of Kansas, such as Wichita.”
It seems that drive-thru chains are going after fast-casual diners — particularly those who are looking for so-called trendy or upmarket ingredients (kale, fresh beef, chia seeds) but at affordable prices. “Our culinary team is always looking to appeal to our customers’ tastes and preferences with new ingredients,” says a McDonalds spokesperson. Despite this, both fast-casual and fast-food restaurants are in a bit of a slump lately. Though fast-casual, order-at-the-counter restaurants have experienced strong traffic growth over the last several years, that growth has slowed recently.
Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst with the NPD Group, said in a recent press release that consumers are not giving up dining out at restaurants, but they do seem to be slowing down. “It’s true that in this flat market it’s a battle for visit share but there are restaurants that are winning. The winning operators focus on their customers’ needs and deliver on them.”
In an effort to compete with fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera and to deliver on what’s trendy in food now, Chick-fil-A recently began testing a line of breakfast and lunch bowls — including a quinoa bowl topped with butternut squash, dried cherries, and kale.