Back in 2019, Americans had slightly more emotional bandwith and could thus focus their attention on groundbreaking innovations like Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and Popeyes’ chicken sandwich. Amidst all the hullabaloo there was major question that hovered above it all like a crispity, crunchity specter: where was McDonald’s in all of this? Not only is Mickey D’s the largest restaurant company in the world by a long, looooooooong mile, but it’s as quintessentially American as landscaping services and pornography stores. As it turns out, the company’s magnitude also means that it can’t immediately fling itself into the zeitgeist; the logistics of developing and rolling out a brand-spankin’-new product at nearly 14,000 U.S. locations (and nearly 39,000 worldwide!) often requires months, if not years, of hard work. Case in point: when 2019 Americans fell hard for chicken sandwiches, McDonald’s was only able to slap together a half-assed, BBQ sauce-drenched special as a way of reminding folks that it, too, serves chicken sandwiches.
Investors and Takeout staff have been eagerly awaiting any sort of news from the Golden Arches—is there some possibility of a McImpossibleWhopper or McPopeyesSandwich?—and, at long last, we have answers. Yesterday, after officially announcing its Q3 earnings, McDonald’s held its long-awaited 2020 Investor Update phone call, dropping so much McNews that nearly 24 hours later, I’m still sifting through it. Hold onto your hats, folks: it’s a new dawn, a new day, and we’re lovin’ it.
Not a surprise at this point, but still, it’s nice to hear. No official release date has been given yet, but McDonald’s said to expect its new and improved Crispy Chicken Sandwich sometime in early 2021. The company began testing a proto-chicken sandwich earlier this year in Houston and Knoxville, but considering that it didn’t inspire people to take cross-country road trips or form angry mobs, we’re hoping the company has tweaked its recipe enough so that the mainstream media will have something to write about every single day for at least six months.
And it’s called... the McPlant. Though the company originally implied that it had developed the new meat-free patty entirely on its own, hours later it was revealed that McPlant was actually developed in partnership with Beyond Meat and will be a proprietary patty. The initial announcement caused Beyond Meat’s stock to drop yesterday morning, but once Beyond’s involvement was clarified, the stock shot right back up again. Anyone who thought to buy Beyond shares within that brief window has our grudging respect.
About 70% of McDonald’s business consists of Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, Chicken McNuggets, and fries, and all of those items will see small but hopefully noticeable upgrades. Burgers will get “a series of operational, process and formulation changes,” the company said, including a mysterious “enhanced grilling method” which supposedly “unlock[s] more flavor.” But the most exciting news on this front is the announcement that toasted buns are on the way, which is the sort of thing that can completely transform the burger experience by covering up the taste of stale bread.
It’s getting a redesign, and McDonald’s is aiming to source 100% of its packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources by 2025. I’ve used up all my endorphins on the previous items in this list and no longer have the energy to communicate any sort of excitement over this.
Just like every other restaurant on the face of the earth, McDonald’s got hit hard during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. In the U.S. things have improved substantially: Q3 comp sales were up 4.6%. Internationally Q3 sales were down 4.4%, but that’s a significant improvement from Q2, when comp sales were down 41%. The decrease in international sales can be explained by lockdown restrictions; in the United States, virtually all locations have remained open since March. But McDonald’s might have a rocky Q4 as COVID’s second wave makes its debut. McDonald’s C.F.O. Kevin M. Ozan said that the company anticipates “starts and stops to be the likely operating environment for as long as the virus is present,” and is planning accordingly.
First, there was the wildly popular Travis Scott Meal. Then, there was the also-wildly popular J Balvin Meal. People love eating whatever celebrities tell them to. McDonald’s C.F.O. Kevin M. Ozan has promised “more to come,” though he didn’t name names. McDonald’s has been leaning more on massive celebrity collaborations to let the kids know that the chain is “hip” and “with it,” as evidenced by last week’s I’m Lovin’ It Live concert in the U.K. (pictured above). Note to celebrities: McDonald’s is making crazy bank from all these promotions, so make sure your agent is completely ruthless. Play your cards right and you might end up with a Scrooge McDuck–style vault full of gold coins and McNuggets. (Regular or spicy.)
The Ds in question stand for Delivery, Digital, and Drive-thru. In fact, these three sectors have become so crucial to McDonald’s operations, the company is planning to test a new restaurant concept that offers drive-thru, delivery, and takeaway only. Starbucks—America’s second largest QSR chain—announced something similar in its earnings call last week, and noted one of the same sales trends McDonald’s has also seen: sales growth is being driven by larger orders, particularly at the drive-thru. In fact, McDonald drive-thru sales are way, way up. Looks like the huge investment it made in Dynamic Yield drive-thru tech back in 2019 paid off. Good for you, McDonald’s!
As for digital, get ready for the new MyMcDonald’s app, which will use A.I. to tailor offerings to your personal tastes (amongst other things) and introduce a long-awaited loyalty program. The app will be tested in the greater Phoenix area in the coming weeks, with plans to expand it throughout the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany, and France by the end of 2021. With only one more quarter to go this year, McDonald’s is forecasting that digital sales in those six markets will exceed $10 billion, or nearly 20% of total sales. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, that is the equivalent of 376 bajllion McNuggets.