The McRib has been a cult classic since it was first introduced in 1981, but why is it only available periodically? The answer lies in McDonald's business model, supply chain logistics, and marketing. McDonald's McRib sandwich is made up of 70 ingredients, but no rib meat. It has become a fan favorite over the years, 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 real reason McRib is only available periodically is limited, with meat costs varying.
When it was introduced, bacon wasn't the popular item it is now. Pork can be bought very cheaply. But as bacon began to become popular as a supplement to hamburgers (again due to cheap supply) and over time added to just about anything, demand decreased McDonald's profit margins so they abandoned it due to declining profits and unreliable supply. Engaging NOW marketing has impacted McRib's regular success. Because of the popularity of products, they can create pent-up demand that will support the higher prices needed to maintain their profit margins.
This strategy brings together the appeal of exclusivity, scarcity and seasonality in one tasty package. McDonald's tried to bring back the McRib in 1989, but even then they doubted how long it would last. The McRib locator has also identified other locations and reports that McDonald's in South Carolina, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota will re-include it on the menu in the coming weeks. Unlike some regional foods, such as the McLobster roll or its peach and mango pie, the McRib has an international following and the global supply of pork is not diminishing. Meat scientist Roger Mandigo, one of the men credited with helping McDonald's invent its legendary sandwich, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the national supply of those pork pieces used to make the McRib is not too large. When the price of those tender pork trimmings starts to rise, McDonald's simply takes the McRib off the menu and disappears once again. Roughly every November for the past few years, the same news headlines continue to appear as McDonald's McRib returns to select locations across the country. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the McRib will turn enough skeptics into believers to guarantee to keep it on the menu forever.
After all, McDonald's is so ubiquitous and the McRib so remarkable that fans get discouraged when he leaves and rejoice exuberantly when he returns. Hell, there's even a website called McRib Locator to help people locate the limited-edition sandwich. Every time he reintroduced McRib, McDonald's management learned new things about customers who liked it and ultimately loved their sandwich. Some people think McRib is an abomination of 70 ingredients, while others can't get enough of the barbecue pork sandwich. I won't see it again, I'm sure. But in the years since then, it has established a cult following.
And understanding why this iconic sandwich is only available periodically requires a lesson in McDonald's business model, supply chain logistics, and marketing.