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Turnaround report: McDonald’s shrinks bundled meals, bulks up management; Ruby Tuesday’s CEO sells shares

McMini Meals?  

Among the slew of food products currently being tested by McDonald’s are candidates for a new value menu that some analysts expect to be adopted by late summer. The most recently spotted contenders are labeled Mini Meals and constitute what’s been tagged in the test sites as the Lovin’ Value Menu, as reported by RB contributor Scott Hume in his Burger Business blog on Monday.

The “mini” elements are apparently the small order of fries and several of McDonald’s simpler and less-hefty burgers, including a Cheeseburger and a few double-patty sandwiches.  One of the latter is called a Signature Burger, and features Dijon sauce and a potato bun.  The tested prices range from $3.99, for a McDouble Meal, to $2.99 for a McChicken Meal. The meals include a regular-sized soft drink.

New muscle for a slimmer executive team?

Just as McDonald’s was about to go dark on its short-term financial performance, the company hired a world-renowned mouthpiece to narrate its turnaround, former Obama Administration spokesman Robert Gibbs. The former White House press chief’s appointment as McDonald’s new chief communications officer is akin to signing Eric Clapton to appear just during a concert’s breaks. 

That’s not the only puzzling aspect of yesterday’s move. McDonald’s has spoken about the need to shrink staff and cut G&A costs. Then it goes out and hires not only Gibbs but new CMO Silvia Lagnado, one of the most powerful figures in consumer-brand marketing. They likely didn’t come cheap.

Less vexing is why the chain is suspending the disclosure of monthly comp sales until further notice. The last figure we’ll likely hear for awhile, for May, was yet another deeper-than-expected drop. And the 2.2 percent decrease was computed on a decline for May 2014.  There’s a lot we won’t hear Gibbs say on that front.

Ruby Tuesday CEO sells shares  

Wall Street never likes to see the CEO of a public company sell his or her shares. The fear is that the executive knows the business is weakening, which would depress the stock’s price, so now’s the time to collect what you can.

Speculation of that sort was stoked last week by the sale of 65,000 Ruby Tuesday shares by CEO JJ Buettgen, who has been waging a valiant but slow turnaround of the casual-dining stalwart. He collected almost $406,000 on the deal, after bagging $1.1 million a month earlier from another sale.

Buettgen, a veteran of Brinker International and Darden Restaurants, inherited Ruby after it had been pushed into polished-casual territory by founder Sandy Beall—leaving its core audience behind. The marketing veteran has been trying to win back customers with lower-priced and more familiar items, like a chicken-fingers dinner for under $8. The most recent effort has been a promotion of ribs, once the chain’s signature.

But sales have proven sluggish in recent quarters. The stock sale was an oh-my-god moment for some investors—even as Zacks.com, a website for stock pickers, heartily recommended that shares be scooped up in anticipation of a price climb.

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