Why McDonald’s killed this menu item

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McDonald’s once poured big marketing dollars into its salads. But since 2020, greens have been off the menu. That’s because the chain has concluded that when people go to McDonald’s, they mostly want a burger and fries.

“If people really want salads from McDonald’s we will gladly relaunch salads,” said Joe Erlinger, the president of McDonald’s USA, in a June interview at the Wall Street Journal’s annual Global Food Forum. “But what our experience has proven is that’s not what the consumer’s looking for from McDonald’s,” he added.

“They’re looking for great french fries, they’re looking for a $5 meal deal, they’re looking for a hot fresh sandwich. And so, that’s what we’re going to continue to provide them.”

Serving a healthy meal — or one fit for vegetarians, vegans or children — can help fast food chains avoid a so-called “veto vote,” which involves a group or family skipping a restaurant that doesn’t have options for picky eaters or ones with dietary restrictions. For McDonald’s, putting salads on the menu was likely a way to avoid the veto vote and stay atop recent healthy food trends.

McDonald’s had been serving salads for decades prior to the pandemic. Salads made it possible for some to eat at the chain while watching their diets (as one diet blogger noted, “the salads were the only half-healthy item I could eat at McDonald’s.”) For others, it may have been more of a way to feel like they were eating healthy, even if they weren’t.

But in 2018, salads became more of a liability than a draw. That year, hundreds of people were sickened with an intestinal illness caused by consuming contaminated food or water. McDonald’s salads were “one likely source of these infections,” the CDC said at the time. During the outbreak, the chain stopped selling its salads at 3,000 restaurants as a precautionary measure.

And then, two years later, Covid hit, and restaurants facing labor shortages and tangled supply chains slimmed down their menus to focus on their most popular items. McDonald’s removed salads from national menus in 2020 to help simplify restaurant operations, the company said. In 2022, the chain gave its franchise operators the option of serving pre-made salads but many decided not to, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The strategy paid off. Sales ballooned as the chain came up with ways to update and market their core items. And now, the chain is focusing its efforts on convincing customers to choose their $5 meal deal, rather than a competitor’s, while the salad has been left behind.

Another menu item that’s not coming to McDonald’s any time soon? A plant-based burger, which McDonald’s tested a few years ago.

“I don’t think the US consumer is … looking for McPlant or other plant-based proteins from McDonald’s now,” Erlinger said at the June conference, but added that “it’s a trend that we’ll continue to monitor.”

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