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McDonald’s cuts its Signature Crafted line

The company’s decision to drop its semicustomizable sandwiches comes as the chain focuses more on speed, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Photograph courtesy of McDonald's Corp.

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On Wednesday, McDonald’s announced that it is phasing out its line of Signature Crafted Recipes line of burgers, replacing them with a trio of Quarter Pounders, including a new Quarter Pounder Deluxe that features lettuce and tomato, and a Quarter Pounder Bacon.

The decision effectively puts an end to the company’s 6-year-old bid to give customers customizable premium products. And it comes as the chain has focused more on improving speed—particularly in the drive-thru.

McDonald’s began looking at customizing its burgers in 2013 with a platform it called “Create Your Taste.” It expanded that idea in 2014 and said that it planned to bring the platform to 2,000 locations at one point.

Kiosks were featured as part of the platform, giving customers the ability to customize their burgers on a screen.

The kiosks survived and are now being added into the chain’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants at breakneck speed. Customization did not.

McDonald’s pared the idea down in 2016 with the semicustomizable Signature Crafted Recipes. Customers had the option of chicken or burgers as well as bun types and multiple options for toppings.

“We’ll be the better burger company,” CEO Steve Easterbrook said to a group of reporters in 2017.

But a funny thing happened on McDonald’s way toward being that better burger company: Convenience became more important. McDonald’s menu expansions in recent years slowed its service times. And Signature Crafted Sandwiches took more time to prepare.

McDonald’s has blamed its slow service for weak traffic last year, which declined 2.2% despite the chain’s fresh-beef burgers, a slew of new value offers and remodels.

“If you think about what we’ve done over the past several years—introduced All-Day Breakfast, put in fresh beef, put in some premium products like the Signature Crafted Sandwiches that take a little bit longer to make ... some of the complexity we’ve added into the business has now created slower drive-thru times,” McDonald’s CFO Kevin Ozan told investors in March.

So the company has been focused on operations this year to improve those service times. Is is cutting dramatically the size of its overnight menu. It is adding technology in the drive-thru to improve speed in an area responsible for more than two-thirds of the chain’s business.

McDonald’s acquisition of technology company Dynamic Yield was due at least in part to the company’s focus on operations. The chain plans to add Dynamic Yield’s technology to its drive-thru menu boards in the U.S. this year.

One of the things that technology will be able to do: fill the drive-thru menu with simpler sandwich selections during busier periods.

But speed wasn’t the only issue with the Signature Crafted line. Price was another one. There is only so much room in the restaurant world for costly burgers.

McDonald’s has, historically, struggled to sell more premium sandwiches beyond its Big Mac, from the McDLT in the 1980s to the Arch Deluxe in the 1990s and the third-pound Angus Burgers line that was killed in 2013 after just four years.

Indeed, Signature Crafted is only the latest in a long line of premium items that were ultimately killed after just a few years on McDonald’s menu.

“This is a good move,” said Richard Adams, a franchisee-turned-consultant, of the decision to kill Signature Crafted.

He said that the sandwiches cost as much as $6.50 to $7, and the value meal cost $9.

That puts it directly in line with fast-casual burger chains. But are you going to spend that at McDonald’s?

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