Back in the day, you couldn't go wrong with the original McDonald's menu. With two entree choices -- hamburger or cheeseburger -- there wasn't much room to experiment. Nowadays, there are lots of choices.
Many introductions to the McDonald's menu have been successful. Take the Big Mac: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun." Other chart-topping hits include the Egg McMuffin and Chicken McNuggets, which quickly won the hearts of customers and keep fans hooked.
But in 50 years of experiments, there were bound to be some mistakes. Some new items failed because customers just didn't like change. In other cases, a menu item didn't sell due to ineffective marketing or simply because it didn't appease many customers' taste buds. Many concoctions have come and gone from the McDonald's menu, proving that sticking a "Mc" prefix in a sandwich's name won't make it sell.
We'll explore five flops that went down in flames. Most of them came after the company's founder, Ray Kroc, died. However, the first flop we'll talk about was actually Kroc's brainchild.
The Hula Burger
McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc, was a brilliant businessman -- when he kept out of the kitchen. After buying the business's rights from the McDonald brothers, he expanded into new geographic markets but soon discovered a problem with the sales in regions with large Catholic populations.
According to church canon, Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat on Fridays. Kroc had high hopes for his non-meat option called "The Hula Burger" -- grilled pineapple with cheese on a bun. He positioned his burger to compete against the Filet-o-Fish sandwich, which was invented by a Catholic franchisee. The Filet-o-Fish won hands down while the Hula tanked.
Since then, American Catholics have relaxed their traditional Friday custom. It's still popular to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, however, and McDonald's typically discounts the Filet-o-Fish sandwich during that time to boost sales.
Although Kroc managed to stop his Hula Burger short and avoided reaching national embarrassment, the company wasn't so lucky with these next flops.
You can have an Egg McMuffin for breakfast and a Big Mac for lunch, but what are die-hard McDonald's fans supposed to do for dinner? McDonald's tried to solve dilemma in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the McPizza. To build the dinner menu, it even tried adding similar options like lasagna and spaghetti [source: Kidd]. Theoretically, McDonald's could've been your one-stop shop -- forget Dominos and Pizza Hut!
Unfortunately, McDonald's customers didn't forget. On top of that, McDonald's customers who were used to fast service were irritated by the long wait times for made-to-order pizza. Although the effort failed, some franchises kept the McPizza on the menu for a while. It wasn't that the McPizza fared doing better in those markets; the franchises were stuck with pizza ovens they paid fifty grand for [source: Berss].
In 1996, McDonald's wanted to broaden its image, so it launched a special advertising campaign. Instead of seeing a fun-loving Ronald McDonald dancing around with kids, TV viewers saw commercials of kids grimacing in disgust at the latest McDonald's burger. This new burger, dubbed the Arch Deluxe, was supposed to appeal to adult tastes with a secret mustard-mayonnaise sauce. That's right: McDonald's -- the symbol of fast, low-priced American food -- was seeking the sophisticated, urban demographic.
As you may have guessed, it didn't work. It seems adults didn't find a child's sheer disgust at a sandwich very appetizing. The company tried another approach -- this time with commercials featuring Ronald McDonald at clubs, golfing and playing pool. This failed because it contradicted the family-friendly atmosphere that McDonald's had cultivated for so long.
Mickey D's spent more money on the Arch Deluxe advertising campaign than it had on any other -- $100 million -- making the sandwich a pricey mistake [source: Collins].
More than a decade before the "Super Size Me" documentary, nutritionists were attacking McDonald's for what they considered an unhealthy menu. To appease these critics and lure the health-conscious crowd into its restaurants, McDonald's unveiled the McLean Deluxe in 1991. It advertised the burger as 91 percent fat free; it had 10 grams of fat compared to the Big Mac's 26 [source: McCullough].
The secret was in the seaweed. To make the burger so lowfat, the company replaced the fat content with water. The recipe called for carrageenan -- a seaweed extract -- to bind the water to the beef. Beef made up only 90 percent of the patty, and water and carrageenan made up the remaining 10 percent [source: Riley]. Despite the addition of "natural" beef flavor additives, the result was a dry failure of a burger that was later called "the McFlopper" [source: Collins].
In its efforts to cater to people with expanding cultural palates in the U.S., and to appeal to an international audience, McDonald's has released some themed sandwiches throughout the world. Take the McArabia -- a flatbread sandwich with chicken, salad and garlic sauce -- released in Arab countries and in Egypt to help stop a boycott of American products in response to the Iraq War [source: Reuters].
But the company made a major faux pas with a different sandwich. This one was released in Norway in 2002 and called the McAfrica. It consisted of beef and veggies in pita bread. It wasn't that it tasted bad -- but it was in bad taste, according to critics. That's because McDonald's happened to release this sandwich at a time when massive famine was occurring in Africa. The irony was too glaring for people to ignore. After being attacked as insensitive, the company agreed to roll back on its plans for the sandwich and kept donation boxes for hunger-relief charities at the restaurants that did offer it.
Think you know your scattered from your smothered? Take this HowStuffWorks Waffle House Quiz and find out.
More HowStuffWorks Lists
- Berss, Marcia. "Empty Tables." Forbes. Dec. 6, 1993. Vol. 152, Issue 13. p232-235.
- Collins, Glenn. "Chief of McDonalds Defends Arch Deluxe to Franchisees." The New York Times. Sept. 19, 1996. [Oct. 10, 2008] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A06E3D81E3AF93AA2575AC 0A960958260
- Collins, Glenn. "Low-Fat Food: Feeding Frenzy For Marketers." The New York Times. September 27, 1995. [Oct. 10, 2008] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=990CE1D61F3DF934 A1575AC0A963958260
- Kidd, Kenneth, Karlene Nation. "Burger business turns tough Fast-food sales lose their sizzle." The Globe and Mail (Canada). Aug. 26, 1991.
- McCullough, Jillyn. "Lean sales for McDonald's low-fat burger." USA Today. March, 10, 1993.
- Reuters, "McDonald's bid for peace comes with chicken: Hopes McArabia sandwich will quell anti-U.S.-fury." National Post (Canada). Aug. 8, 2003.
- Riley, Karen. "McDonald's lightens its menu in a new drive to fatten profits." The Washington Times. July 4, 1991.