The McRib Phenomenon: Why Does McDonald's Come and Go with the Popular Sandwich?

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. 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. McDonald's saw that they had messed up with the Big Mac, so by bringing back the McRib and taking it off, they basically keep people wanting more. The McRib consists of a restructured boneless pork burger shaped like miniature ribs, barbecue sauce, onions and pickles, served as a sandwich on a 5 ½ inch (14 cm) roll. The McRib has established a cult following, and when it returns to the menu sporadically, those fans come out of the woodwork.

This scheme is accidental and deliberate, and understanding it requires a lesson in McDonald's business model, supply chain logistics, and marketing. When 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. The McRib was first introduced in 1981 and wasn't very successful.

But in the years since then, it has established a cult following, and when it returns to the menu sporadically, those fans come out of the woodwork. 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. In a year of disappointment and canceled events amid the coronavirus pandemic, the McRib continues to return. The only clue to McRib's return was a teaser tweet asking followers to activate their notifications for the “biggest announcement”.

Some people think McRib is an abomination of 70 ingredients, while others can't get enough of the barbecue pork sandwich. If you're perhaps feeling a little wary about your enthusiasm for the McRib this year, it's probably because the McRib is doing what the McRib does. Every October or November for the past few years, the same headlines appear when McDonald's McRib reappears in select locations across the country. Although the McRib has a devoted fan base, it is likely that it will never secure a permanent place on the McDonald's menu.

You see, the McRib is made with certain cuts of pork and there aren't always enough cuts of meat to supply an indefinite amount of McRib sandwiches.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

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

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