What To Do With 10 Million Lbs. Of Chicken?

by , Dec 24, 2013, 7:55 AM
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Wonder how to create a viral story? Just wing it.

No, we’re not vetting Justine Sacco’s tweet or Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ this morning. We’re talking chicken — the 10 million pounds or so of it that’s sitting in McDonald’s freezers because someone or something algorithmic misgauged the public’s appetite for Mighty Wings.

The Wall Street Journal’s Julie Jargon fired up the frier, as she often does, with a short item in the “Corporate Intelligence” blog last week revealing that about 20% of the approximately 50 million pounds of chicken wings that McDonald’s had purchased for its limited-time promotion in the fall remained in the freezer due to lack of demand, according to an informed source. 

McDonald’s, which did not immediately respond to Jargon’s queries, later said, “we’re bringing back Mighty Wings — stay tuned,” as spokeswoman Lisa McComb wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg’s Businessweek’s Vanessa Wong. And that’s about as much as we know about the future of the chicken parts as this point. But there are all sorts of divinations about the “McFlop” — and no lack of advice from pundits and other commentators. 

“It's not a taste issue — The Huffington Post found the wings to actually be quite tasty,” it posted. “And we weren't the only ones.”

“It wasn't about the advertising either, which may have been a little off at times,” the same piece claimed.

It was … drumsticks, please. Right! The price

“Maybe it was the pricing, well above sports bars and other wing outlets at about $1 per wing, in a restaurant that offers actual burgers for a dollar,” writes Laura Northrup on The Consumerist, with the “maybe” being rhetorical.

And McDonald’s knows it, as you would expect.

“Speaking with analysts in October, CEO Don Thompson said the wings ‘performed at the lower end of our expectations,’” CBS Moneywatch’s Kim Peterson writes. “He admitted that the company could improve on affordability, saying that ‘$1 per wing was still not considered to be the most competitive in the current environment.’ He also called the wings' flavor “slightly spicy for some consumers.”

This has not been sitting well with franchisees.

“In an anonymous survey conducted by Janney Capital Markets’  analyst Mark Kalinowski in October, some McDonald's franchise owners said the wings were selling poorly because they were priced well above competitors’ offerings,” reports CNBC’s Karma Allen.

“Mighty Wings are proving once again that we can't sell premium items in large numbers because we still have the Dollar Menu,” one franchisee told Kalinowski.

Not that sages didn’t see it coming.

“When this promotion was first announced, I wrote an article that predicted that Mighty Wings would be a flop, with the high price being the biggest issue for consumers,” Timothy Green reminds us on The Motley Fool.

But is McDonald’s destined to just compound a compounded  mistake?

“McDonald's actually erred twice -- putting itself in a double chicken wing, so to speak -- by buying so many wings that it drove up market prices, then had to price Mighty Wings too high to sell briskly,” reports USA Today’s Mike Snider. “They underestimated their own impact on wings' costs,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Nick Setyan in the article. “Now they have got all this extra supply they don't know what to do with and they are going to try to force it down franchisees' throats again.”

It has happened before.

Jezebel’s Rebecca Rose points out this morning that “this isn't the first, and dare I say, this won't be the last time one of our go-to stoner palaces fast food venues makes a misstep in gauging just what kind of crap we're willing to shove in our bodies” before skewering other such offerings with a dollop of praise. 

There was, for example, the “awesome” McD.L.T. which ad copy promised “kept the cool side cool and the hot side hot.” Or Wendy’s Frescata Sandwiches with sauces that had “fancy sauces on them take some time to prepare and no one heading into a Wendy's at noon on lunch break has time for all that.”

Speaking of breaks, it’s clearly time for one. See you Monday.

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