As McDonald's takes to the television airwaves to convince us that it only uses 100% beef in it burgers, despite what you may have heard on the rumour mill, it's no secret that the company is concerned about flagging sales as people become increasingly health-conscious. So that makes it all the more surprising that they haven't seen a very obvious way of making millions that is right in front of them and only needs an employee to move one item, already within arm's reach, into a box that's even closer. What surprises me even more is that after many emails and tweets I only recently got a tweet back acknowledging the suggestion, which is wrapped up in a complaint.
Unless you are a vegetarian or have vegetarian children (my wife ticks both boxes, I only tick the latter) you will have no idea how odd it is that McDonald's, which relies so much on pester power of kids dragging parents into a restaurant, doesn't offer a veggie burger as a meal deal. That's right. Those Happy Meals that usually have a toy from the latest movie included are not available with a veggie burger, although they are available with carrot sticks for those who eat neither meat or fish. Ask yourself this: how many children will tug on their parent's arms all day until they're taken to a fast food outlet where they can watch buddies eat burgers and nuggets while they dip into a bag of carrot slices?
You'd be forgiven for thinking they don't actually do a veggie burger. I can never find it on the board when I'm dragged into a McDonald's, and I can't find it anywhere on their Web site. It's certainly not in the saver meal deal things they advertise loudly. No -- it's something you have to go in and ask if they do. If you've done it a couple of times, you get to know it is on offer, no matter how quietly it's mentioned. If you don't believe me, just go on their Web site and if you find a link to a veggie burger, or even better, a veggie burger meal deal, please add the link in the comments below -- you're a better searcher than I.
So why the fuss? Well, I have a personal grievance. In fact, I have three of them -- ages 13, 9 and 7 -- who just don't understand how the veggie burger they're ordering can't be put in one of those Happy Meals complete with some figure or toy from the movie that has just begun screening. It's one of those times when your kids ask you something about life that you don't get either. So I always complain. And I really do mean always. Out of maybe a dozen rants (over as many years), only once has someone seen the good sense of putting a veggie burger, fries and drink, charged for at normal rates, into a box with toy. Every other time, there's a shrug of the shoulders and a "no."
Guess what this does for our attendance at McDonald's? Guess how it makes our kids feel when their mates all grab a Happy Meal and start playing with the toy and they're left with just a veggie burger wrapper?
Although this irks me, it's not my main point. My main point is very simple: McDonald's needs to grow its customer base. The chain has been very honest about flagging sales and executives have been lining up to talk marketing gobbledygook about reconnecting with the customer and core propositions -- you know the kind of stuff.
Here's the ridiculously simply part. I can think of no other group they could more easily engage with than new and lapsed vegetarian customers. It's just so simple. You make veggie burgers, you offer meal deals and you also offer Happy Meal boxes. How can it not be a no-brainer to put the veggie burger in a Happy Meal, and for adults, make it part of a meal deal? It's not like it involves any extra effort. The components are all there in front of you.
What's the market, you may ask. Well, the UK's vegetarian society puts it at anywhere between 2% to 5% of the population who are vegetarian, depending on your definition. However, check out the long list of research into food habits and it turns out that anything between 10% to 20% of the British market -- and no doubt other markets too -- are either avoiding meat or cutting down on their consumption.
So an incredibly modest estimate would be that around 10% of lapsed or new customers could either be reengaged to visit or reinvigorated to visit more frequently. I've pointed this out to McDonald's over the past couple of years several times, and I have received just the one reply that they are constantly reevaluating their menu.
Well, how about reevaluating this: by simply putting something you already make, albeit on the quiet, into a box you shout loudly about, I reckon there's a good 10% of the population that will be more likely to visit more frequently.
Please tell me if I'm wrong -- but I can't see how that is anything but a recovery plan for McDonald's that is literally staring them in the face.