Chain Reactions

Behind the Scenes of McDonald's Hot and Saucy Supply Chain

There are three topics that people should never discuss (unless, of course, you have a blog and want to generate as lively a debate as possible): religion, politics and the McRib.

I'll admit it: When it comes to my personal beliefs, I am firmly entrenched in the pro-McRib camp. Having been exposed to the movie "Super Size Me" in school, my daughters won't even go near a McDonald's, let alone savor the deliciousness that is a McRib, and my wife just thinks the McRib looks nasty and messy, so mine tends to be a solitary pursuit whenever those magical words, "The McRib is back" appears on a McDonald's billboard.

But what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with supply chain management? Plenty, actually, since the McRib is apparently the only pork sandwich (not counting sausage-and-egg type breakfast sandwiches) sold through a national fast food retailer. The McRib is also famously available only occasionally, with consumers having no real way of knowing when it will appear again (kind of like how Disney puts its most popular movies in "the vault" for a while). This has given rise to speculation that McDonald's only sells the McRib when it can corner the market on hog futures.

In this fascinating article on the website The Awl, several conspiracy theories are proposed to explain the mysterious comings and goings of the McRib. The author offers an interesting supply chain spin on why McDonald's offers the McRib only sporadically. The writing gets a little loopy at times, though, and I get the distinct impression that the author doesn't hold the McRib or truck drivers, for that matter in very high esteem; witness this key passage near the end of the piece:

"he McRib makes a mockery of this whole terribly labor-intensive system of barbecue, turning it into a capital-intensive one. The patty is assembled by machinery probably babysat by some lone sad sack, and it is shipped to distribution centers by black-beauty-addicted truckers, to be shipped again to franchises by different truckers, to be assembled at the point of sale by someone who McDonald's corporate hopes can soon be replaced by a robot, and paid for using some form of electronic payment that will eventually render the cashier obsolete."

The McRib will soon disappear again, to return who knows when, so if you're in the mood for some fast-food pork, don't wait too long. After November 14, it'll be gone... at least, until the next time.

TAGS: Supply Chain
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