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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Getting lots of Mc-Lovin’

Scott Jagow Feb 18, 2009

Does it bother you that the big winners in this recession are Wal-Mart and McDonald’s? Yesterday, Wal-Mart said sales set a record last quarter, and today, Mickey D’s said it plans to open 500 new stores in China. No one’s expanding like that in this economy! A lot of people loathe these companies, but they are very good at what they do.

McDonald’s has always aggressively expanded when the economy goes bad, and both McDonald’s and Wal-Mart gain customers in recessionary times. When cheap is the priority over quality, as it may be for a lot of people right now, these well-branded companies stand out. In China, McDonald’s just rolled out its “best-ever value meal combination.” Prices on some items were cut to levels not seen in a decade. Few companies can offer that kind of value without putting themselves in serious jeopardy.

What amazes me is their global reach and appeal, McDonald’s in particular. Is it just a fact that all human beings love McDonald’s french fries? When it expands to a new country, McDonald’s seems to morph into whatever that country wants it to be. So if the Chinese love Filet-O-Fish (which apparently they do), McDonald’s turns Filet-O-Fish into China’s Big Mac. In China, McDonald’s also has the Mala Pork Burger, and they make pizza! Of course, the pizza is called a McPuff.

In Quebec, McDonald’s offers the Poutine, which is — get this — french fries and cheese curds covered in gravy. In parts of New England, you can get a McLobster. Around Chesapeake Bay, you can order a McCrab. In Hawaii, spam. At some McDonald’s in Wal-Mart stores, they sell popcorn and soft pretzels. Such collusion.

In some countries, McDonald’s has started offering 24-hour delivery. Seriously, you can call up at 4 am and get a McPuff delivered right to your door.

The one thing you can’t get anywhere is a Hulaburger. That was an invention from Ray Kroc himself, test-marketed in 1963. It didn’t go over so well. It was a “burger” with a pineapple instead of meat. It was designed for Roman Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Fridays during lent.

McDonald’s never stops reaching.

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