A Closer Look at McDonald’s Growth as Both a Trend-Setter and Trend-Follower
A Closer Look at McDonald’s Growth as Both a Trend-Setter and Trend-Follower

Will the Fast-Food Giant Continue to Stay Relevant Despite Growing Consumer Trends?

McDonald’s was not the first franchise, or even the first fast-food franchise, but it arguably has become the top example of the franchise business model. Since Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois, the brand has expanded rapidly into more than 36,000 locations in over 100 countries, with about 80 percent of those stores owned by franchisees.

Franchising has matured a lot since that first McDonald’s opened 60-plus years ago. So how did the chain grow from a single restaurant into the expansive corporation it is today? And will it continue with the same momentum in the next 60 years?

Ray Kroc’s vision for McDonald’s from the very beginning was to create a consistent, affordable place to eat delicious burgers and fries. Even today, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a McDonald’s in Florida or Michigan, Europe or Australia – you’re going to have a similar experience wherever you are. Customers know what to expect and can rely on those expectations when making a decision on where to eat.

And yet, at the same time, McDonald’s has dominated in the innovation category. They’ve introduced loads of unique menu items over the years, such as the Egg McMuffin, Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish and Shamrock Shake, which has played a huge role in McDonald’s fending off stagnation over the years.

Most recently, McDonald’s has stayed relevant through the introduction of its famous All-Day Breakfast menu rollout, as well as promotions like the McPick 2 for $2. Each of these things has given the chain a much-needed momentum going forward.

But, despite these changes, McDonald’s realized other ways it needed to reinvent itself. As consumers’ tastes shift toward simpler, healthier options, the need for a cleaner menu has become increasingly hard to ignore.

Which is why, McDonald’s, and every other franchise, has learned quickly that they need to make quick changes to consumer demands, which now means giving the boot to cheap, unhealthy ingredients like corn syrup and non-organic items, and they need to prove trust through transparency in food prep and ingredients. McDonald’s joined the movement a few years back. The Egg McMuffin maker announced that by 2025, all of its American and Canadian egg suppliers will be cage-free.

“Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from,” McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres said in the brand’s press release announcing the cage-free decision. “Our decision to source only cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we place on food quality and our menu to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations.”

They’re also fighting back against the accusations that its food is unhealthy and overly processed. The company hosted a campaign allowing consumers to ask them any question they want, and they enlisted former “MythBusters” cohost Grant Imahara to help adjust misperceptions about the freshness and quality of McDonald’s ingredients.

McDonald's noted in a recent sales report that, "consumer needs and preferences have changed, and McDonald's current performance reflects the urgent need to evolve with today's consumers."

All this said, McDonald’s seems to be competing hard against the Wendy’s, Burger Kings and even Starbucks and Chick-fil-A’s of the world. They have taken great strides in an attempt to reach the current demands of today’s consumers. But are they committing enough resources to battle the newest food trends in order to withstand the Shake Shacks and MOOYAHs of the world? Will the general mindset that McDonald’s is an unhealthy place to eat ever change? McDonald’s has a long track record of reinventing itself against the odds, and we’re intrigued to find out how they’ll continue to separate themselves from the clutter.

“More than ever, people care about their food – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it’s prepared,” said Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s USA. “We’re making changes to ensure the food we’re proud of is food our customers love and feel good eating, and we remain committed to our continuing food journey at McDonald’s.”