Commentary

McDonald's Takes The Wraps Off Its 'Subway Buster'

In what several observers see as an attempt to derail competitors’ trains running on the “healthier-for-you” track, McDonald’s yesterday announced that it is adding Premium McWraps to its menu. The three entrée-sized offerings -- Chicken & Bacon, Sweet Chili Chicken and Chicken & Ranch -- are wrapped with a flour tortilla and packed with such veggies such as spring greens, romaine lettuce and tomatoes. Two will have cucumbers and, yes, there is cheese.

The wraps range from 360 to 600 calories, depending on whether the chicken is grilled or deep-fried, and the “recommended price” is $3.99. A widespread but unrevealed marketing campaign is expected when the McWraps officially become available April 1. They are already being served in many locations, however. A PDF fact sheet on the products is available here.

“According to people familiar with the situation, McDonald's views its upcoming McWrap as a ‘Subway buster,’ a product that is capable of taking share from the sandwich chain and others of its ilk,” Maureen Morrison writes in Ad Age. “McDonald's also views the new product as its biggest launch of 2013 and its biggest brand opportunity since McCafe, these people said.” 

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The offerings “reflect the changing tastes of diners, who are increasingly looking for more premium ingredients with a healthier image -- even at fast-food chains,” writes the AP’s Candice Choi, who reports that the chain also will offer a version of its Egg McMuffin made with egg whites starting April 22.

Wraps are not an entirely new concept to McDonald’s. It currently offers 10 varieties of Snack Wraps, for example. But it does take the competition for consumers looking for more nutrition and fewer calories to a new level.

Dan Coudreaut, director of culinary innovation of McDonald's USA, tells the AP’s Choi that “the wraps will be a new ‘platform’ and that different varieties are already in the pipeline,” including spicy or Cajun flavors. 

“Premium McWraps are a great example of how we can bring innovative new tastes to our customers in the U.S. by leveraging successful global menu items, in this case, from McDonald’s Europe,” Coudreaut says in a release posted on Restaurant.com. “Also, the packaging design was an important challenge for us as we wanted to ensure our customers can enjoy each bite; whether dining in our restaurants or on the go.”

The Premium McWrap actually made its debut in Poland in 2004 and has become one of the most successful menu items there, according to McDonald’s. There are several YouTube videos (here and here, for example) of people unwrapping McWrap overseas (voiceover definitely not guaranteed).

Sources tell Ad Age’s Morrison that “McDonald's believes it has not capitalized sufficiently on the popularity of the sandwich category where it identifies Subway, Chick-Fil-A and KFC as having strong presences, and views the introduction of its McWrap as the biggest opportunity for the chain to take share in the sandwich category this year.” 

Several commenters to Morrison’s story suggest that it’s not only what goes into the sandwich that matters but also how the ingredients come together. While predicting that McWraps will be “much welcomed” by current customers, for example, Bill Crandall writes that they will not “be a Subway buster,” if that’s what the chain has in mind.

“You go to McDonald’s, give the clerk/cashier your order stating personal preferences, wait 10-15 minutes, get back a tray or bag, and then hope for the best. Everything done in some mysterious ‘back room.’ At Subway, you get on an inviting assembly line that you can actually watch in progress.”

For its part, Morrison says a McDonald’s spokeswoman refused to comment “on speculation or information we believe was obtained through unauthorized means."

Other naysayers seem to include Hamilton Nolan, writing on Gawker. Nolan says the McWrap “[resembles ] a dish that an extremely high college sophomore would make using the only four ingredients left in the refrigerator” and, presumably relying on experience rather than an actual taste test writes, “the astoundingly bland and dry version of a cold and empty burrito will attract millions of customers and move the stock price of this multinational corporation ever higher.”

Many of Nolan’s much more passionate and verbose commenters (than those in the business press) perhaps prove the point. Writes one: “Can anyone admit that McD's tastes good? It does. I know it's chemicals manufactured in a lab in NJ by mad scientists but it's manufactured SPECIFICALLY to be delicious to human tastebuds. And it is. McWrap, get in mah belleh.”

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