By Lisa Baertlein
(Reuters) - McDonald's Corp said on Wednesday it plans to cut the number of items on its U.S. menus and use fewer ingredients in food as it moves to speed up service, bolster sales and offer consumers personalized options to compete better with Subway and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Mike Andres, the company's U.S. president, said starting in January menus will have eight fewer food items and five fewer Extra Value Meals.
The world's biggest fast-food chain, which has not had a monthly gain in sales at established U.S. restaurants since October 2013, is also making the changes to reach out to consumers who are demanding simpler, more natural food choices.
The company is testing its slimmed-down menus in six markets, including Bakersfield, California, and Knoxville, Tennessee, a spokeswoman said.
The simplified menu boards will offer one Quarter Pounder with Cheese hamburger as compared with four on the regular menu, one Premium Chicken sandwich versus three, and one Snack Wrap versus three.
Andres said McDonald's is not finished tweaking menus.
"There's more to come," Andres said on a conference call with investors. "We don't need to have a big menu board to offer variety."
The menu changes come as McDonald's plans to roll out its new "Create Your Taste" sandwich program to 2,000 of its 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants by the end of 2015.
McDonald's is hoping that giving customers a choice of sandwich toppings will enable it to better compete with Subway and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, popular restaurants that allow diners to build their meals ingredient-by-ingredient.
McDonald's abandoned a prior customization drive several years ago. Chief Executive Officer Don Thompson recently told Reuters that technology that allows customers to order from mobile phones and in-restaurant kiosks makes success more likely this time around.
In addition, the company with the "golden arches" has been working to win back mothers and young diners, who increasingly want food that is fresh and minimally processed. In October, it launched a U.S. online campaign called "Our food. Your questions." aimed at addressing negative perceptions about its food quality.
Andres said McDonald's ingredient labels need to be shorter and noted that simplifying ingredients is an enormous task, "but we have to get started," offering a glimpse into how the company is rethinking its recipes.
Busy McDonald's operators don't keep food in storage for very long, Andres said. "Why do we have to have preservatives in our food? We probably don't."
Shares of McDonald's were down 1.3 percent at $90.14 in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Alden Bentley, Meredith Mazzilli and Bernard Orr)