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Notebook

Thoughts & musings.

A Few Thoughts on McDonald's

Remember a year ago when McDonald's was over? The stock was tanking, management seemed out of ideas, and chin-stroking experts predicted the company's death at the hands of burger-hating, kale-loving Millennials. Funny the difference a year makes. Just last week McDonald's stock price hit its all-time high, and even some of the brand's harshest critics are expressing grudging respect for the scaled-down menu and the company's recent experiments with fresh beef.

Me, I never doubted the resilience of the brand. I watched the company from the inside for almost a decade as a reporter for its internal news publications, and I had every confidence in a comeback. Mind you, I'd seen mistakes. I was there for the now legendary Arch Deluxe disaster, by far the most dramatic of the two cycles of menu expansion and contraction I witnessed. There were other less noteworthy flubs along the line too, garden-variety missteps that every business makes, but which, because McDonald's operates entirely in the public eye, seemed magnified. 

One thing I never failed to be impressed by was the fierceness of their love for their customers — their obsession not only with pleasing them, but with keeping them safe (their food safety program, which goes entirely unnoticed by the public, achieves the food service equivalent of a moon shot every single year). I also saw the boundless creativity and willingness to try-try-again that we're all observing right now. Yes, the updated "we're not fast food" store architecture and rough-around-the-edges product photography seemed forced at first, but there's no denying they both work, don't they?

As for the menu, let's just say that if their customers want it, McDonald's will find a way to deliver it. Including kale. Right now a kale salad is being tested in California, along with garlic fries and Greek yogurt, sweet potato fries in Texas, and in Oregon new McNuggets that contain no artificial colors or flavors. Don't be surprised if many of these are adopted system-wide this year, and one or two become permanent additions to the lineup. 

Determined critics of the brand will continue howl about fat and calories and the "fake"-ness of the food. Expect McDonald's to keep right on changing and innovating in an attempt to satisfy even them. That right there is a brand lesson for everyone.