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Even the McRib Can't Save McDonald's Now

By Rick Munarriz – Oct 29, 2014 at 9:00AM

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The McRib is here -- for some -- but it won't be enough for McDonald's to get piggy with it.

Source: McDonald's.

The world has a beef with McDonald's (MCD -0.42%). The world's largest burger chain is reeling and its uninspiring third-quarter report offered little hope that a turnaround is on the way. Revenue slipped, earnings declined, and comps fell for the fourth consecutive quarter.

With the four-week Monopoly promotion wrapping up we can now turn to an unlikely potential catalyst: the McRib. 

McDonald's has made the boneless pork sandwich a seasonal treat, and despite limiting its regional distribution in recent years it could be the spark that the chain desperately needs to break out of its slump. The Wall Street Journal called the sandwich a potential "savior" two years ago, and things have only gotten worse at Mickey D's since then. The McRib's availability through mid-November in select cities could combine with October's Monopoly promotion to finally get comps back on track.

The one-two punch can be a potent combo for the holiday quarter since McDonald's ran the Monopoly promotion during the third quarter last year while scaling back the McRib rollout to promote its poorly received Mighty Wings.

Even if it's ultimately only a temporary lift it will at least provide a break in the literal and figurative negativity that's been coating McDonald's like barbecue sauce on a McRib in recent quarters. In the long run, it won't be enough.

Pork in the road
Critics will argue that the food at McDonald's isn't what it used to be, and there's some truth to that given how the chain has had to alter some of its prep practices and ingredients in order to crank out marginally healthier fare.

The McRib naturally isn't healthy. It packs 26 grams of fat, and that includes an even more problematic 10 grams of saturated fat. It's a cult favorite, but it's perhaps the chain's reluctance to associate itself with unhealthy menu items that's limited recent rollouts to select markets over the past couple of years. 

Then again, it could also be that McDonald's has failed to make it a national offering in the past three years because folks just aren't warming up to the seasonal sandwich outside of the admittedly fanatical McRib out there. And it's probably saying something if McDonald's customers don't like something because they are pretty unimpressed with the quality of the grub at the chain already. 

A Consumer Reports survey earlier this year asked tens of thousands of fast-food enthusiasts to rank the leading chains based on the taste of their signature items. It wasn't pretty. Of the 21 burger chains in the survey, McDonald's ranked at the very bottom.

Then again, it seems as if you can't be the top dog in the fast food world if consumers actually like your food.

Yum! Brands (YUM -1.15%) also wasn't exactly a hit with those surveyed. The parent company of KFC and Taco Bell found those two chains dead last in the chicken and burrito categories, respectively. They're the biggest, but in the taste buds of the masses, they're just not that good. It's a similar story for Subway -- the country's largest sandwich maker and actually even larger than McDonald's in terms of domestic locations -- which was ahead of only Au Bon Pain in the sandwich and subs category among 15 chains.

That may not come as a surprise to consumers, and it may actually come as a comfort to McDonald's to know that it can stay on top without being seen as a haven for quality meals. This won't stop the chain from trying to counter that perception, however. Rolling out gourmet sandwiches, premium salads, and fancy beverages in recent years has been part of the plan to improve the quality of its edibles.

It has also gone social. Earlier this month McDonald's turned heads by introducing a series of webisodes addressing myths and concerns about what's actually in its sandwiches and other menu items. What's in a McNugget? Is pink slime in the Big Mac? McDonald's even has former "MythBusters" host Grant Imahara performing the sleuthing on the requests of question-submitting skeptics.

Why not? It's playing all of the Ms -- Monopoly, MythBusters, and McRib -- right now. Something's got to stick.

Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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