There have been endless articles, news stories, and think pieces about McDonald’s Millennial problem, often theorizing why the next generation of consumers is eschewing the iconic golden arches. So we decided to go straight to the source, and just ask Millennials and teens what it would take to get them to eat at McDonald’s more often.
In our April monthly survey of 13-32-year-olds, we asked, “What would make you eat more often at McDonald's? What would they have to change or improve?” and let them sound off. We’ve culled through their very honest answers to find their biggest problems with the McDonald’s brand, in their words:
1. Quality control
McDonald’s’ reputation has indeed soured in the eyes of many Millennials and teens. A 20-year-old male said, “McDonald's has such a disgusting stigma attached to it. Even if they had something that tasted great and seemed healthy, I would be getting it from McDonald's ... ew. I know it's not fair, but that's just the way I've thought of McDonald's for years.” Ouch.
But product quality was one of the top-mentioned issues, and the word "quality" itself was used 185 times in their open-ended responses. More than a few talked about the way that McDonald's food made them feel (sick) and the sub-par taste. A 27-year-old-female said, “[I would eat there] if they offered better quality food. Their food is so chemical laden and nothing close to what I would make at home. It is too high in calories and bad fats to eat … way too processed.”
2. Out with Artificial
Of course, many of them got far more specific than general quality. To many, that quality comes from better ingredients. Getting rid of artificial, processed products and antibiotics, going non-GMO, and using organic, local items were frequent requests. Their reputation for wanting more natural, "real" menus is not unfounded.
Many mentioned wanting transparency around the ingredients and the food preparation. One 23-year-old male said he would eat there more "if McDonald's became transparent and used ingredients that people trusted and not preservatives like they claim aren't harmful. [There's] still [a] perception that it's dangerous."
3. High-calorie Fears
Their concern for their health was another common response. While some said they only wished McDonald's food felt more healthy, many took issue with the high calorie counts on the menu, and the toll it might take on their health. For some, fast food has been eliminated from their diets, and even if they liked McDonald's it's not a part of their lifestyle. Others don't need the food to be actually good for them, but would be happy if it were just not as bad. According to a 22-year-old female, she would eat at McDonald's more "if the food were in that nice middle line of healthy and unhealthy like Chipotle feels."
4. Burritos Not Burgers
Some responses from Millennials and teens did hint at a problem that McDonald's won't be able to fix with a new mascot, pared down menu, or even healthier, more organic ingredients: some of these young consumers just don't want to eat burgers anymore. Several mentioned craving burritos over burgers, or liking the "cultural" food that Chipotle provided better. A 30-year-old male's response to the question “What would make you eat more often at McDonald's?" was simply, "If they served Chipotle."
5. The Variety Problem
Some of those who took issue with McDonald's’ overall menu indicated their issue with burgers is one of boredom. One 22-year-old male said, "I've eaten chicken nuggets and french fries from there forever, so I'm a little tired of it." A 14-year-old female told us "I feel as if everything tastes the same and I don't enjoy it as I did when I was younger."
Wanting customization was a variation on this theme. A 22-year-old female said, "I wish that I could customize my burgers there. I also wish they offered avocado and grilled chicken." One 28-year-old male succinctly summarized several of our themes, saying he would eat at McDonald's more if they provided "lower sodium content. More customizable options … [and] spicy foods."