Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Infestation or Innovation?

McDonald's made the headlines earlier this year when a former Philadelphia McDonald's employee, Karrium Demaio, released a cell phone video of a mouse running around inside a bag of sandwich buns at McDonald's. Sure, it's hard to put too much stock in the words of a McDonald's employee--let alone one who was fired for poor performance after three months on the job--but news like this hits the internet and spreads like wildfire.  Demaio poured gasoline on the flames by adding that he always found mice back in the kitchen when he worked there, and managers often had to remind employees to brush mouse poop off the buns before serving food.

 A blurry screen shot from the alleged mouse video

These types of rumors can damage a restaurant's reputation in a hurry.  Who can forget the infamous Wendy's thumb-in-the-chili debacle of 2005?  Customers sprinted for the exits as if the ghost of Dave Thomas himself were streaking through the restaurants. Fortunately, I benefited greatly from Wendy's sluggish sales.  I had just moved to North Carolina for the summer when Wendy's announced that they were giving away free Frosty's for a weekend--no purchase necessary--as an incentive to get customers back in the restaurants.  I happened to live down the street from a Wendy's and took full advantage of that offer every time I drove by during those two glorious days, one of many reminders that everything tastes better when it's free.  But back to the latest McDonald's issue...

 Goin' streaking?

When I first caught wind of the story on the news, I went to the internet to find out more.  When I Googled "McDonald's mouse," there were no shortage of links to choose from. I thought I'd found a YouTube clip of a newscast covering the great McDonald's mouse mystery, but, to my surprise, this was an unrelated incident from nearly three years ago. Apparently McDonald's has been struggling with rodent issues for quite some time, and not just in one Philadelphia location. What I'd found was the hilarious story of a stray rat in a McDonald's play area:

I've started to connect the dots, and this string of seemly unrelated rodent incidents makes me think that there may be more to this story than meets the eye. Back in January, around the time of the latest mouse sighting, McDonald's launched a new product: McBites.  Normally, McDonald's is very transparent--to the point of being downright boring--when it comes to naming  its new products. Ronald McDonald and friends typically follow a simple formula that even its core customer base can understand: "Mc" + product description = new product name.

You've got McNuggets (chicken nuggets), McMuffins (English muffin sandwich), McFlurry (ice cream), McCafe (coffee), McRib (raccoon shanks pressed into boneless, rib-shaped masses), McChicken (chicken sandwich)...you get the idea. But what the *&#@ is a McBite?!  I find it very suspicious that the latest McDonald's rodent story hit the headlines around the same time that these mysterious "McBites" appeared in restaurants.

 Wadded raccoon never tasted so good!

Based on this bit of amateur detective work, I'm starting to wonder if a more appropriate name for the McBite might be McMouse, McRat, or the more generic McRodent.  Perhaps that rat-spotting incident back in 2009 was nothing more than an early McBite R&D experiment gone terribly wrong--a reminder that bad things happen when your ingredients escape captivity.

For a company that prides itself in offering cheap food, the rodent meat market represents an untapped gold mine of potential profits.  Heck, people pay exterminators good money to keep rodents out of their houses, and I'm sure there are enough rats in the NYC subway system alone to feed America hundreds of times over.  Not only could McDonald's get its hands on an endless supply of free meat, but it could also expand its offerings into the really, really low end of the value market with the brand new Half-Dollar Menu.
 Step aside; there's a new bargain in town...

What about taste? I've never sampled rodent meat myself, but I'm guessing the usual rule applies: "it tastes like chicken!" And let's face it--you could bread and deep fat fry a cinder block and it would still taste delicious.  The opportunities here are endless--over the years, McDonald's has run countless promotions featuring Mickey Mouse-themed toys, the happiest part of children's Happy Meals.  With McRodent, the kids don't just get to play with the mouse; they get to eat the mouse. What could be more exciting?

Another sign I'm on to something?  McDonald's released it's Q4 financial results in late  January, a few week after McBites hit the market. Results were spectacular, with earnings up 11% versus last year's fourth quarter.  Apparently the margins on your new products look pretty good when you get your ingredients for free.  No, I don't have any definitive evidence, but I think it's safe to say McMystery solved.

As always here are some links to the story:



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