Roughly every November for the past few years, the same news headlines continue to pop up as the McDonald's McRib returns to select locations nationwide. Update: 2019's season has just begun, as the McRib is coming to over 9,000 locations nationwide for a limited time starting October 7th.
However, nobody has really yet been able to answer the biggest question surrounding this cult fast food item: Why is the McRib always back?
McDonald's gave folks a shady answer the last time people pushed for one, saying that the McRib comes back when it feels like it or that it returns "based on consumer demand." If that were the case, the McRib would never leave the menu. However, there's two key reasons from a business standpoint that the golden arches never makes the McRib a permanent item: the allure of the limited-time classic and the price point of the trimmings used to make it.
It's no secret that McDonald's famous pork sandwich is made with pork trimmings. It's the price of those extraneous pork shoulder cuts that play a major part in determining when and how long the McRib stays on the menu. Meat scientist Roger Mandigo, one of the men credited with helping McDonald's invent their legendary sandwich, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the national supply of those pieces of pork used to make the McRib isn't too big.
"If you suddenly start to buy a large amount of that material, the price starts to rise," Mandigo said. Thus, as the price of pork trimmings goes up, McDonald's eventually takes the pork sandwich off of the menu.
In addition to cost control, McDonald's only keeps the McRib around for a short while as a way to keep people coming back for it. It's extremely similar to what Burger King did with their Mac n' Cheetos. After a widely successful initial limited-time release, customers begged for its return. Every time Burger King brought it back, social media would go off as everyone got hyped about Mac n' Cheetos returning..
That's exactly what McDonald's does with the McRib. Major news outlets and the entire internet picks up the story every time the McRib comes back, which in turn brings in more traffic as fanatics of the sandwich come in droves to sample it once more. Because McDonald's is so ubiquitous and the McRib so noteworthy, fans are then disheartened when it leaves and rejoice exuberantly when it returns.
If the McRib were always on the menu, it wouldn't have the same appeal and excitement every time you went to try it. Thus, between cost control and marketing allure, McDonald's has developed a clever strategy to draw the masses in with their McRib release campaigns.
As Inc.'s Nicole Carter puts it, "While McDonald's playing hard-to-get with the McRib certainly baffles most customers, from a business perspective, it has proven to be a wildly effective marketing strategy. The McRib's marketing strategy bundles the appeal of exclusivity, scarcity, and seasonality into one savory package."
For us, that means we can expect to see the McRib always disappearing and coming back for the near future.