In its latest move to counter sluggish sales and answer a growing chorus of criticism of its food, McDonald's plans to introduce a hamburger that is lower in fat.
The new hamburger, which the company may announce today, would be the first such product to be available nationwide at any fast-food chain.
The low-fat burger, which in test marketing has been called the McLean Deluxe, uses a new process that substitutes water for some of the fat.
The sandwich, offered in addition to McDonald's other burgers, would have about half the fat of the company's large hamburgers, such as the Quarter Pounder. Other low-fat "burgers" that have been marketed were made of beef substitutes like soybeans; this is the first to use beef.
Hardee's and Wendy's, rival hamburger chains, have been marketing lean-beef burgers since last year, but they have only 10 to 15 percent less fat than regular hamburgers.
McDonald's declined to comment on the new burger, but some McDonald's franchisees said yesterday that the restaurant chain, the world's largest, would start national advertising of the item on April 19 and would make the sandwich available in restaurants on April 26.
McDonald's has scheduled a news conference today at its headquarters test kitchens in Oak Brook, Ill.
Last year, McDonald's, after criticism, switched the oil used to fry french fries from one heavily laden with beef fat to a mixture made up mostly of vegetable oil, which is lower in saturated fat.
Many fast-food chains now offer salad bars with low-calorie dressings and sell low-fat frozen yogurt in addition to ice cream.
Securities analysts doubted whether the new sandwich would give an immediate lift to McDonald's sales, because, they said, most fast-food customers are not overly concerned about nutritional issues.
Still, analysts said the unusually swift introduction of the sandwich -- nine months from blackboard to restaurant -- underscored McDonald's desire for a product that would stimulate the sluggish domestic market, where too many competitors with too many restaurants have dampened business for all the fast-food chains.
With industrywide sales of $13.4 billion, McDonald's and its franchisees' share of the hamburger market is about 50 percent and of the fast-food market about 25 percent, according to Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.