The rise, fall, and resurrection of the McDonald’s McWrap

Anne Parks, McDonald’s Director of Menu Management, testing the Asian Crispy McWrap in McDonald’s test kitchen, July 2014
Anne Parks, McDonald’s Director of Menu Management, testing the Asian Crispy McWrap in McDonald’s test kitchen, July 2014
Photo: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star (Getty Images)

Think back to 2013. “Twerk” and “selfie” were freshly added to the Oxford Dictionary and Millennials came to represent one-third of the U.S. population. More importantly, though, it was the year that McDonald’s decided to roll out a handheld entree featuring spring mix veggies and a warm flour tortilla. Yes, nearly a decade ago, the McWrap found its way onto the starting lineup of the McDonald’s menu and into my heart.

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Adding to the list of things people can blame (or thank) Millennials for is the introduction and, eventually, destruction of the McWrap. It was a product specifically aimed at this demographic, a generation that by the early 2010s was gaining more media buzz by the day. In fact, an internal memo reveals that McDonald’s execs were hoping to lure in those lucrative consumers with a product that offered lots of choice: “[The McWrap] affords us the platform for customization and variety that our millennial customer is expecting of us,” read the memo in part. And so, the new menu item was born. It came pre-loaded with options, it had the allure (illusion?) of being a healthy alternative, and best of all, it might win back the customers that McDonald’s was losing to Subway.

McWrap had its humble start by debuting in Poland in 2004. Recognizing its popularity there and looking to satisfy a more health-conscious audience, McDonald’s decided to start testing the waters in the U.S. in 2006. First, only a small-format Snack Wrap was made available. Next, in 2010, the chain tested out a full-sized version, the Chicken Grande Wrap, followed by the Fresh Garden Wrap. It was inching closer.

By 2012, the actual Premium McWraps were ready for a dress rehearsal, and McDonald’s decided to test them out in two U.S. cities. Blessedly, Chicago was one of the cities chosen as a test market, and I like to think that I, and other McWrap-loving customers like me, helped ensure that the premium line was launched nationally in 2013. The lineup included a Bacon McWrap, a Ranch McWrap, and a Sweet Chili McWrap, each with the option for grilled or crispy chicken as the main protein. And if anyone fell for this product’s “healthy option” marketing, it was me.

Looking up at a menu of fries, double cheeseburgers, and Big Macs, it was easy to assume a tortilla filled with veggies was the healthiest bet. For a “premium” item, the wraps were also fairly reasonably priced at about $4 each, compared to a Big Mac, which cost around 50 cents more. When your teenage income consists of money from Mom and Grandma, you go with the cheaper, flashier option.

On top of the price and overall allure, the first thing I think of when I recall the McWrap is its container. The premium line came conveniently packaged in a cardboard sleeve with a tear-away strip in the center that revealed the open mouth of the wrap and let you eat from one end without all the good stuff falling out the other. I thank the R&D team at McDonald’s for so firmly believing its Millennial customer base absolutely needed to eat these wraps on the go, because that packaging kept every last bite together. I didn’t have a driver’s license back then (still don’t), so I wasn’t really going anywhere—but hats off to them regardless. My lack of transportation options and general “underageness” also meant that fast food runs were a social event in themselves. Whenever I passed under those golden arches I had a soft flour tortilla and crunchy cucumber combo in mind, along with a side of small fries.

According to archived nutritional information, the wraps ranged from 360 calories to 600 calories depending on your choice of chicken, and their fat content was pretty high. A Crispy Bacon McWrap contained 30 grams of total fat, which is the same as a Big Mac. Still, vegetables are vegetables, and knowing its calorie content now doesn’t change my stubborn wish that the Premium McWrap were somehow still on the menu. Because, unfortunately, like many other fresh young acts that flame out too fast, the McWrap had its 15 minutes of fame and then was gone without even a farewell tour. In 2016, it was retired from the U.S. menu.

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Like me, you might be asking, “But why? How could this be?” Or maybe something in a less dramatic tone.

The fast food game is about numbers and efficiency. From a business perspective, the Premium McWraps just weren’t adding up to their intended success. Between heating up the tortilla, chopping up fresh ingredients, and assembling the whole thing, turnaround time on a McWrap clocked in at about 60 seconds. By contrast, the average burger takes only about 10 seconds. Millennials also weren’t eating up the wraps the way execs had hoped, and to top it all off, McDonald’s was on a mission to simplify its offerings and streamline its menu. The wraps no longer fit that mission, at least not in the U.S.

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If you’re truly missing the McWrap, you’ll be happy to know it’s not completely extinct. Fans in the United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, and Canada are able to get their hands on at least some variation. (Just another thing Canada does better than the U.S.) For the rest of us, there’s no choice but to go the homemade route, so I did a bit of research and set to work bringing all three Premium McWraps back into my life.

The first step was to warm up a burrito-size flour tortilla. If you don’t have the expert skills of heating it directly over an open stovetop flame, I suggest putting it in a skillet over the burner and flipping it after about 15 seconds. At the same time I heated up pre-made, frozen chicken strips, to approximate the preparation at McDonald’s. Assembly was pretty straightforward from there: I added the spring mix greens, grilled strips of chicken, sauces, and various chopped toppings. To get that distinct open end on one side, I folded the left side of the tortilla under the right and tucked in the little tail at the bottom. I didn’t have any trendy cardboard sleeves on hand, but I wrapped the bottom half of the wrap in aluminum foil, and ta-da!

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Three assembled imitation McWraps in foil on the kitchen table
Photo: Angela Pagán

Some substitutions were made, like bacon bits instead of strips, and colby jack cheese over cheddar jack, but in the end I was left with three tasty wraps. The key word there being “wraps” and not “McWraps.” As great as my homemade creations turned out to be, they didn’t live up to the McDonald’s order of my past. Maybe it was the lack of innovative packaging, or maybe it’s that McDonald’s secret mass-market touch just can’t be mimicked. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was missing, but it’s just like an ice-cold Sprite or a packet of ketchup: some things just taste better when they come through a McDonald’s drive-thru window.

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Nonetheless, here’s a shorthand guide to all three wraps, if you feel like trying to get them any closer to fast food perfection.

Illustration for article titled The rise, fall, and resurrection of the McDonald’s McWrap
Photo: Angela Pagán
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Bacon McWrap

  • 2 crispy chicken strips
  • Creamy garlic sauce
  • Bacon
  • Cheddar/Colby jack cheese
  • Sliced tomato

Ranch McWrap

  • 2 crispy chicken strips
  • Ranch dressing
  • Seasoned rice vinegar
  • Cheddar/Colby jack cheese
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced tomato

Sweet Chili McWrap

  • 2 crispy chicken strips
  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Creamy garlic sauce
  • Sliced cucumbers
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DISCUSSION

the-misanthrope
The_Misanthrope

I seem to remember that there was also a Big Mac wrap?!? Like it was literally just a burger chopped up to fit in the wrap, with special sauce and shredded lettuce? It feels too dumb to be real, but I swear I remember it.