The Mystery of the McRib: Why Does It Come and Go?

McRib is a barbecue-flavored pork sandwich regularly sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain McDonald's. It was first introduced to the McDonald's menu in 1981, following trial marketing the previous year. But why does it come and go?McDonald's McRib, a sandwich that has 70 ingredients but no rib meat, was not very successful when it was first introduced in 1981. However, it has since established a cult following, and when it returns to the menu sporadically, those fans come out of the woodwork. This scheme is both accidental and deliberate, and understanding it requires a lesson in McDonald's business model, supply chain logistics, and marketing. The main reason McDonald's will never make the McRib a permanent fixture is the thrill of having a limited-edition menu.

They do it to maintain popularity. They saw that they had messed up with the Big Mac. Everyone loved it, but as you see all the time, no one cares much about the Big Mac. So, by bringing back the Mc Rib and taking it off, they basically keep people wanting more. Limited releases almost give consumers a Pavlovian response.

For example, when the weather turns colder, Starbucks customers often get excited about pumpkin-spiced lattes. In November, customers come to see the new Christmas mugs. When the leftovers are cheap enough, McDonald's will go to the slaughterhouses and buy the parts that no one else wants, and then shred them to make McRibs. The only clue to McRib's return was a teaser tweet asking followers to activate their notifications for the “biggest announcement”. According to Business Insider, by bringing the McRib back for a limited time, McDonald's sees a good sales increase in its fourth financial quarter. It was his inspiration to shape the McRib pie like a slab of ribs, despite the fact that a round burger would have been cheaper to make and serve on standard hamburger buns. The sandwich, as well as the cultural phenomenon of chasing the McRib, were the main theme of the Simpsons episode I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can, in which he parodies himself as the Ribwich and gains cult followers. Therefore, as the price of pork trimmings increases, McDonald's is finally removing the pork sandwich from the menu.

In addition to cost control, McDonald's only maintains the McRib for a short time as a way to get people to come back for it. Although the McRib has a devoted fan base, it is likely that it will never secure a permanent place on the McDonald's menu. That explains how McRib began, but the story of his continued return and disappearance is explained in Today I Found Out. McDonald's tried to bring back the McRib in 1989, but even then they doubted how long it would last. McRib's marketing strategy brings together the appeal of exclusivity, scarcity and seasonality in one tasty package. McDonald's tried to promote people for the McRib again in the early 1990s as part of a promotion for the Flintstones movie, but again, it was more than a cult favorite. McDonald's said that the “rise of the Internet and the emergence of social media solidified McRib's icon status and “the hype surrounding its annual return even gave rise to the phrase 'McRib season'.

That doesn't necessarily mean that McRib will turn enough skeptics into believers to guarantee keeping it on the menu forever.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

Proud social media ninja. Bacon expert. Unapologetic gamer. Proud zombie nerd. Freelance pop culture scholar.

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