Say what you will about McDonalds but the executives behind the globally recognised fast food chain are nothing if not persistent in their pursuit of modern consumers. Since the release of Morgan Spurlock’s damning if problematic exposé, Supersize Me , the company has gone all out to provide healthy alternatives to the staple Big Mac and fries, such as fresh fruit and salad. And the image overhaul didn’t end there; in order to lend the brand a touch of class, changes were made to the interior of McDonalds restaurants, with the removal of their trademark red and yellow layout – a sign of just how far the chain has come since the days of Ronald and his colourful pals. Now those facing the 9 to 5 grind can pick up an early morning latte and toasted bagel whilst enjoying neutral decor and depending on the branch, maybe even a vase of fresh flowers. But the question is, do they want to?
Recent figures would suggest perhaps not, with second quarter net income results revealing a 1% drop to $1.39 billion. Although the slump seems pretty minimal, it is symptomatic of financial difficulties McDonalds have been facing since 2012. Although the company recovered somewhat following the blow to their image at the beginning of the century, profits have since ground to a bit of a standstill and now seem to be gradually decreasing.
Current media speculation has cited various possible contributing factors as to the reasons behind this; such as the recent rotten meat scandal in China (suppliers were allegedly caught changing expiry dates), increase in competition and decrease in price – with the rise of ‘value menu’ options.
The cumulative effects of all of the above would spell trouble for any big brand even one which, since the 1940s, has become synonymous with the fast food label itself. But the issues pertaining to the grandaddy of nutritionally dubious eateries seem to me to run far deeper than what is being suggested here. Put bluntly, it’s not just their meat that has surpassed its sell by date; no amount of re-branding can detract from the fact that the landscape of consumerism has changed dramatically since the monopolization of the big three (Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds). Now, there are options within options and buyers tend to compartmentalise their needs according to product; for example, coffee lovers already have Costa and Starbucks, not to mention dozens of smaller franchises for more discerning tastes. In a misguided attempt to become a McJack of all trades, the former king of burgers has effectively become a master of none.
Determined to stave off defeat in the meantime, plans have been put into place to troubleshoot consumer needs with the establishment of a so-called ‘learning lab’ in the States. It seems unlikely that McDonalds will ever be able to outrun their troubled past – and perhaps one less tempting treat on the high street wouldn’t be a bad thing – but their commitment to the race back to the top is strangely admirable.