Candice Choi | AP
NEW YORK – McDonald's struggles to hold clients as the big Mac 50 turns, but it does not cope with the stuff of its most famous burger. The company is celebrated in 1968 the national launch of the biplane sandwich, whose ingredients "two full patties, special sauce, salad, cheese, cucumbers, onions and a sesame bun" were torn through a TV jingle into American memories. But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of stores in the US. McDonald's said Thursday that customers visit less often. Other trendy burger options reach into the heartland.
The "Golden Arches" still have tremendous global reach, and McDonald's brand of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and fries is recognizable around the world. But at its critical home game, the company strives to remain relevant. Kale is now appearing in salads, fresh ones have replaced frozen peanuts in Quarter Pounders, and some stores now offer kiosks, food outlets, and barista cafes.
The Big Mac remains unchanged, showing how much McDonald's and the rest of fast food has evolved.
"Of course we've made our menu development a bit more sophisticated," McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a telephone interview.
As with many of its popular and long-lasting menus The idea for the Big Mac came from a franchisee.
In 1967, Michael James "Jim" Delligatti called the company's attention to let him test the burger in his Pittsburgh restaurants. Later he confirmed the similarity of the Big Mac with a popular sandwich sold by the Big Boy chain.
"It was not like finding the light bulb, the light bulb was already there, all I did was screw it into the socket," Delligatti said aloud, "Behind the Arches."
McDonald's agreed to let Delligatti sell the sandwich in a single location, on condition that he uses the company's standard bun. It did not work. Delligatti tried a larger sesame bun, and the burger soon raised sales by more than 12 percent.
Following similar results in more stores, the Big Mac was added to the national menu in 1968. Other ideas from franchisees the big hit time are the fillet-o-fish, egg McMuffin, apple pie (once fried but now baked) and the shamrock shake.
"The company has benefited from the ingenuity of its small business people," wrote Ray Kroc, who transformed McDonald's into a global franchise, in his book "Grinding It Out."
Franchisees still play an important role and are driving the last change of frozen for beef in Quarter Pounders, says Easterbrook. They also participate in the menu development, which has included a number of flavor enhancements in the US.
Mixing with a signature menu may be taboo, but retaining the Big Mac has its own risks. Newer chains like Shake Shack and Five Guys offer burgers that make the Big Mac look old. Even White Castle is modernizing and has recently added vegetable "Impossible Burger" sliders.
One McDonald's franchisee was annoyed in 2016 that only one in five millennials tasted the Big Mac. The Big Mac had become "less relevant," the franchisee wrote in a memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.
McDonald's then completed promotions that made the Big Mac accessible to more people. Such regular campaigns should help keep the Big Mac relevant for years to come, says Mike Delligatti, the son of the Big Mac inventor who died last year.
"What an iconic sandwich do you know that can beat the Big Mac as long as longevity?" Said Delligatti, himself a McDonald's franchisee.
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