What is in this article?:
- McDonald's tests variations on Quarter Pounder, McMuffin
- Strengthening the core
Innovating off signature sandwiches could help brand balance sales mix, drive traffic, says marketing expert
The operative strategies emanating from McDonald’s Corp. headquarters in response to October’s disappointing sales trends have been everyday value and premium new menu items, and some products currently in test market may satisfy the company’s need for both.
This week, McDonald’s restaurants in Northern California began testing three new varieties of Quarter Pounders, while a McMuffin made with egg whites, which the chain had hinted about in September, made its test market debut in Atlanta and Austin, Texas.
The Quarter Pounders in test include the Habanero Ranch, with white cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon and a new habanero-ranch sauce; Deluxe, with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, mayonnaise and mustard; and Bacon and Cheese, with American cheese, bacon, red onion, pickle, mustard and ketchup.
Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s is testing these items during a time of major transition in the United States. Last week, Jeff Stratton replaced Jan Fields as president of McDonald’s USA, one week after the domestic system recorded its first monthly same-store sales decline since 2003. Separately, chief executive Don Thompson had conceded to investors that the slow growth and increased competition in the United States would be a “new normal” for the brand, necessitating a greater marketing emphasis on value platforms like the Dollar Menu and increased innovation for premium limited-time offers.
But Tim Nelson, president of Chicago-based advertising agency Tris3ct, noted that McDonald’s test of new Quarter Pounders and Egg McMuffins incorporates a crucial third lever to be pulled along with value and premium menu items: the core menu. Innovating off signature sandwiches allows McDonald’s to produce the kind of menu news that drives traffic and keeps too much sales mix from skewing toward the Dollar Menu or a la carte orders of lower-cost sandwiches, Nelson said.
“Anything that brings the focus back to core products brings the focus back to bundled meals,” Nelson said. “If you innovate around your signature equities and do things that, while they bring new news to those products, can sell Extra Value Meals, you can work back to … getting customers in the habit of buying core products as part of a meal bundle, as opposed to a la carte.”
Before joining Tris3ct, Nelson led the U.S. retail marketing account for McDonald’s at Arc Worldwide.
“This seems to be the right concept at the right time with the right burger,” Nelson said. “McDonald’s is lucky in that they’ve never played this card, and they’ve had the Quarter Pounder for how long? It’s fortunate that they have something that could be so substantially incremental to their offering and value perception.”