After nearly three years on the job, Don Thompson, McDonald’s chief executive is stepping down. The move is not surprising given the continuing issues the international fast food giant is facing. The most pressing issues include struggling to recapture a declining customer base, particularly in the United States, as American consumer tastes evolve.
Thompson will be replaced by British-born Steve Easterbrook, who is currently McDonald’s chief brand officer. Promoting from within is an interesting choice given the current state and trends of fast food in general and McDonald’s in particular. While Easterbrook is familiar with the internal workings and tendencies of McDonald’s culture, he’s also, presumably, one of the architects of the decisions that brought McDonald’s to this point to begin with.
So, is this another case of corporate America choosing to “take a little off the top” in response to declining sales, or will Easterbrook bring new ideas to the top job in a way that Thompson was unable to in his tenure? That’s a question that has investors and consumer PR firms watching this scenario very closely. How McDonald’s moves in the coming months, and what transpires because of those moves, will likely create a narrative that will echo across the fast food marketplace.
One move the company has already announced includes “menu changes.” Though exactly what would be changed is still anyone’s guess, the nature of those changes should provide a signal as to just how bad McDonald’s believes the bleeding to be. If they work on ingredients in their current menu or cut a handful of under performing items, that might be enough to get reluctant consumers to give them another shot while also increasing profit by focusing on selections that already sell well.
However, if they choose to introduce new menu items, as competitors Hardees, Taco Bell and KFC have recently, then that might signal more desperation hiding under the Golden Arches.
And, any time a large fast food chain goes the “add more and different” route it begs the question: “WHY?” Many upstart and even a handful of large fast food chains have staked a claim on “simple and delicious,” keeping the menu short and the quality discernibly better than their competitors. And these places are gaining market share with increasing speed. That reality makes it easy to wonder if any of the top brands are paying attention.