So, McDonald’s has been coming out with quite a number of new sandwiches and burgers in the past couple of months. The CBO (3 kinds! Beef, Grilled Chicken, Crispy Chicken), the $1 Grilled Onion Cheddar, the Bacon McDouble, and, of course, the behemoth of annually-reappearing food items: The Almighty McRib, forged from the fires of Hephaestus’s grill itself. And I’ve been delightfully sampling these new burgers: the CBO (Angus beef of course, go big or go home, and by home I mean not suffer from early onset cardiac disease), the $1 Grilled Onion Cheddar, and, yes, the McRib (I realized I’ve had one for 2 consecutive McRib seasons. My God, have I become one of those hardcore McRib groupies?)
So, what’s with all of the new burgers anyways? Isn’t McDonald’s the #1 fast food restaurant in sales, at home and abroad? Head honcho of grilling, frying, sizzling, and slapping together a value meal before you can say ‘extra ketchup please’? The #1 purchaser of beef, potatoes, pork, and apples? Well, yes, but while McDonald’s is still all of these things, last October, it reported that, *gasp* for the first time since 2003, McDonald’s monthly same-store sales dropped.
So, what’s the problem? Why so many new items? Is this desperation? McDonald’s has weathered so many storms, heck, super-tornada-hurri-quakenamistorms, in the past, from the mad cow disease beef scare at the turn of the century to changing consumer tastes towards the healthier and an increasing scrutiny from various groups about every gram of fat, carbohydrate, and calorie that goes into its food, and it’s survived. No, it’s thrived with persistent growth over the past decade. So what gives now? Well, first, this is the first time same-store sales has dropped in 9 years. There’s the expectation of continued growth from its shareholders. And also, a drop in profits could be a blip on the radar for McDonald’s, a rare anomaly. But, what if it’s not? The fast food industry has plenty of competitors clamoring to be the one that feeds you lunch. While Burger king has long since been the definitive burger alternative to McDonald’s, there are plenty of up-and-coming burger chains wanting to take a bite out of McDonald’s sales/market share. 5 Guys, Smashburger and a surging Wendy’s (which overtook Burger King as the #2 burger chain in terms of sales in 2011, behind McDonald’s of course).
And beyond burger joints, other strong fast food restaurants are keen to take a larger part of the pie: sub sandwiches has Jimmy John’s mounting a strong challenge to Subway, Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco has become a runaway success, becoming its best product launch ever, and the expansion of menu items at places such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, with the latter having a variety of 99¢ items challenging McDonald’s dollar menu. Wendy’s, too, rolled out a 99¢ menu last year. Sure this drop in profits could just be an anomaly as McDonald’s executives would like. But what if it’s the start of a running trend?
And so we come around to an answer (possibly) as to why McDonald’s is pushing so many new items in recent months. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A good defense is a strong offense. A slight slip in sales and the challenge of competitors with varied menus begs the question of the suits atop McDonald’s: how do we quickly please many different tastes to regain our financial footing (not that they’re on the brink of going bankrupt anytime soon)?
Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Not all at once, but on a pretty compressed time table. More upscale fast food burger joints on the rise? CBO! Grilled mushroom & Angus burger!
99¢ alternatives to McDonald’s? Expand the dollar menu!
People still concerned about healthy eating? More salads! And oatmeal!
Then sit back, crunch the numbers: see which offerings consumers are gobbling up, and which makes the best profits, which gets more customers in the door buying more items per visit.
It’ll be interesting to see how McDonald’s charts its course from here on, as well as how its competitors try to put a dent in the Golden Arches.
Fish McBites. Hey, I wouldn’t turn it down (you had me at fish), but I don’t see people rushing out to get them. I mean, you took the filet from the filet-o-fish (which I love, again, seafood), and turned it into deep-fried balls of seafood. There’s never been a huge coolness/uncoolness factor to McDonald’s food either way, but they just took seafood and made it so incredibly…uncool. Again, deep-fried seafood balls. While aimed at expanded seafood/meatless options during Lent, I don’t see it gaining traction beyond a curiosity sampling after March 31 (Easter).
As for McDonald’s “Mighty Wings” (their foray into fried chicken), while I have no urge to lambast it as above, I must admit my curiosity is piqued at the idea of ‘fried chicken–McDonald’s style,’ I’ve no intention to spend money on it while there’s a Popeye’s Chicken in the same food court, or a KFC across the street, or something else cheaper/more interesting on McDonald’s menu. CBO? That was interesting. Bacon McDouble? You had me at bacon. Grilled Onion & Angus? That was interesting. Mighty Wings? Meh.