McDonald's most recent promotion was a curious one: three sizes of Big Mac, the largest of which was called the Grand Mac. The Big Mac wasn't all that big to begin with (a mere 1/5 of a pound of beef). So why even waste your time with the single-patty Mac Jr.? But the Grand Mac? Here's something I'd been waiting for. My colleague Sonny Bunch, however, suspected it was nothing more than a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese in disguise. Was that all there was to it? I had to find out.
During a special Facebook Live event on location at a McDonald's in Arlington, I was able to pit the two sandwiches against each other. Rest assured, there were differences.
The Grand Mac has 1/3 of a pound of beef, 860 calories, and is priced at $4.99. The Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese has a half-pound of beef, 770 calories, but is $5.39. I guess it depends on your priorities—cheaper but more calories and less beef, go with the Grand Mac (yes, that special sauce makes all the difference). More beef, higher price, fewer calories, the DQP is meant for you.
This was, of course, just one of many promos McDonald's has been pushing in the face of stiff competition and market share loss. Same-store sales are currently down from a year ago (despite a brief boost thanks to 24-hour breakfast). Next up is fresh beef instead of frozen for the Quarter Pounders. Rivals serve fresh beef—it's a major selling point along with organic, grassfed, free range, and antibiotic-free—but McDonald's operations are so expansive that it'll be a logistical nightmare. Plus the addition of more refrigerators may lead to franchisees raising prices on the sandwich.
"[McDonald's USA president Chris] Kempczinski said the company has put in place rigorous food safety protocols to ensure the beef is properly stored and handled from the processing plant to the restaurants," reports Julie Jargon in the Wall Street Journal. "A third-party auditor will perform food-safety audits at the restaurants." That's all going to cost.
In the past, McDonald's has attempted to go the healthier route by offering salads and wraps. It turns out (big surprise) most people who visit McDonald's do not want healthier options—they want burgers and fries. But they also want cheap, so those sirloin-style offerings also didn't last. Ultimately what McDonald's patrons search for are low prices, consistency, and speed. The new menu additions slowed down the kitchen. If I were advising Kempczinski and his boss, Steve Easterbrook, I'd urge them to focus on less. Don't try to make a better burger than Shake Shack. Just make it the same as it's always been, at an affordable price, and served quickly, just as the McDonald Brothers always expected.