As Canadians Get The McDonald’s P.L.T., Americans Get The McRib, Again

Food & Drink

If you get the impression that McDonald’s wants to be all things to everyone, you just might be right.

It tries to lure upscale burger customers with fresh beef, then brings back its dollar menu.

It plays catch up to Burger King, White Castle and countless other restaurants with a plant-based burger called the P.L.T., which it is testing in Canada.

And then, for Americans, it dials up the way-back machine.

McDonald’s on Monday brought back the McRib, featuring a pork patty meant to simulate a mini-slab of ribs, that first made its debut in 1981.

The retro classic, which McDonald’s describes as a “fan favorite,” has McRib sauce, pickles, onions and is served on a hoagie roll rather than a bun.

To be fair, the McRib fits squarely into the strategy that fast food companies have embraced with alacrity during recent years.

All manner of outlets, from Taco Bell to Arby’s, tout their limited time only specials in an effort to boost traffic and create social media buzz.

In McDonald’s case, the McRib tends to appear in the fall. You might call it the pumpkin spice latte of sandwiches.

Last year, it rolled out the sandwich later in October. And with temperatures staying warm in many parts of the country, it’s easy to wonder why McDonald’s wouldn’t wait a bit longer.

However, this year has seen a true phenomenon in limited time only offers, the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, which became a marketing bonanza for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen when it was sold in August.

Popeyes says the chicken sandwich is supposed to rejoin its menu, but it hasn’t said when. You can bet that there will be lines as soon as it returns, since 92% of sandwich buyers say they are “extremely” or “somewhat likely” to return for one.

Needless to say, a 38-year-old sandwich is not going to come close, but McDonald’s gets attention every time it brings back the McRib, and every fast food company salivates at creating the kind of buzz that Popeyes generated.

Indeed, people were tweeting their love for the McRib on Monday, and it had some devoted fans among my Facebook friends when I asked who liked it.

There are apps including the McRib Locator that can help McRib-lovers find them (too bad Popeyes didn’t use this strategy).

Yet, given the speed at which the demand for plant-based sandwiches is growing, you’d think that McDonald’s would rather roll the dice on a major Popeyes type success.

The answer is simple: at this stage, plant-based is still risky for McDonald’s.

Franchisees know how to make the McRib. It has an established fan base. And, McDonald’s has years of data on the cost equation, based on the number it plans to sell.

None of those things are certainties with the P.L.T., as I recently wrote.

So, while you’re waiting for McDonald’s to make up its mind on a plant-based burger for the United States, you can console yourself with – pork.

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