McDonald's Struggling With Changing Tastes

Customers turning to "Fast Casual"

McDonald's was there during the recession, offering menu items for under a dollar.

Now that times are getting better, the same people who stocked up on cheap food may be turning their back on the fast-food giant.

"With the economy improving, consumers have a couple dollars extra to spend," said San Diego State marketing professor Miro Copic. "When they're looking at higher quality food they're not choosing McDonald's."

And the numbers prove his point. On Tuesday shares of the world's largest burger chain were down. Third-quarter comparable store sales dropped 3.3 percent in the United States. And earnings fell worse-than-expected: 30 percent compared to a year ago.

With rising labor and food costs, McDonald's and other fast food restaurants have had to cut down on their dollar menu.

Today the "value" menu includes items from between $1 and $6 and that's not necessarily bringing customers in the door. Instead people are going to "fast casual" restaurants like Chipotle and Panera.

"Mexican food, Asian fair, sandwich shops have made a big comeback," said Copic. "People are seeing options and they're looking at a lot of different variety that they didn't do over the last five years."

In the mean time, millennials, health conscious shoppers and others are steering away form many fast-food restaurants. McDonald's is experimenting with more personalized meals and offering regional menu items.

One published report says the company is even rethinking it's "I'm Lovin' It" ad campaign. And while it still owns the market for budget shoppers, it will have to work harder to capture the crowd walking across the street to more upscale casual food restaurants.

"Fast food needs to re-think its value proposition," said Copic. "And in the spaces they compete, they need to have a more compelling offering."

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