McDonald’s Cult Hit McRib Getting Mainstream Treatment

McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) has been tearing it up in 2011. Shares of MCD stock are up 20% so far this year compared with a flat market. The company’s McCafe coffee offerings have been a tasty and affordable alternative for cash-strapped consumers — and flashy upscale store redesigns and an exclusive McDonald’s McTV channel look to build on current momentum for the restaurant.

But for some fast-food fans, the tastiest development of all is McDonald’s plans to bring back the vaunted McRib sandwich in November. And this time, the sandwich will not appear sporadically as a small-scale push up to the restaurants — but nationwide as part of a serious roll-out.

McDonald’s announced today that the boneless barbecue pork sandwich will be sold at every single U.S. location from now through Nov. 14.

While the appeal of the boneless pork patty sandwich is a head-scratcher for some, to others the McRib is a cult sensation. After all, if it’s such a success, why pop in and out of the marketplace instead of making the McRib permanent?

Short-lived promotions serve a valuable purpose in the restaurant world, re-engaging old customers and reaching out to new ones. What’s more, higher-end promotions can be extremely profitable. Consider the push earlier this year from Burger King to sell ribs for a $7 a pop. Those were a bit pricier — probably because they were actual ribs and not a mishmash of processed pork like the McRib — and had some restaurant insiders shaking their heads.

But the BK ribs campaign was wildly successful. The chain sold out of the product before the scheduled end of the promotion. Part of the reason for the success, industry experts say, was the novelty of the menu item and a new reason to consider stopping by a restaurant.

Riding that red-hot wave of initial enthusiasm is where the biggest money is made. As interest wanes, it actually can be more of a drag on the bottom line to keep in place the preparation, storage and distribution networks for an item outside the normal menu.

Of course, not all new sandwiches and snacks get that burst out of the gate. McDonald’s itself is one of the biggest offenders, with the flop of its Arch Deluxe in 1996. It spent a fortune on production and marketing — upward of $300 million by some estimates — and never connected with customers.

But the McRib is almost a brand in and of itself — just search for “McRib” on Facebook or Twitter and you’ll see for yourself the loyal followers. The short window to buy this goodie only fuels the appeal.

Of course, it’s worth noting there is one market where the McRib is permanent: Germany. As for whether fans are loyal enough to travel to Berlin just for the tasty sandwich, the jury still is out.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of Write him at, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.

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