🍟007 A Happy Meal
Small actions to big changes
🧀 A friend started a charcuterie board business. She runs it on Facebook. She delivers it locally. I asked, “How do you do it?” She said, “I just go to Aldi and get the stuff”.
The boards look fantastic. They don’t look like I just went to Aldi. There’s a lot of convenience and value in her bundling. Here’s a similar story, a version of which was in the CAC Pack podcast episode: Apple, Overcast.
🍔 It’s 1938 and the McDonald brothers open up their first restaurant. The menu is BBQ, PB&J, pie, and hamburgers. After noticing burgers were the bulk of the sales they close for three months, retool, and reopen with a focus on hamburgers and milkshakes.
In 1955 a milkshake equipment salesman gets another purchase order and wonders what the heck is going on with these McDonald boys. They’re operating out of San Bernardino for Pete’s sake. There’s nothing there. It’s the dessert! He visits the sleepy town.
The line is around the block. Hmm, not so sleepy. He’s awestruck. He asks the brother to sell to him. “No thanks,” they say. “What about a franchise? I’ll open in Chicago,” he rejoins. “Okay,” they say. By 1961 the milkshake equipment salesman owns the company. His name is Ray Kroc.
🐟 It’s a year later and Kroc has had plenty of problems. First, a batch of potatoes went bad. He’s flummoxed. The deal with a franchise is that there’s a system. Here in Chicago Kroc follows the steps but they aren’t working.
The problem is the air.
San Bernardino has dry desert air. Chicago does not. In San Bernardino potatoes can sit out and dry out. In Chicago, they cannot. Air-drying potatoes doesn’t work the same way. Kroc figures out that he can have fans run over them and get a similar taste. Problem averted.
Another problem is Lou Groen, a franchisee in Cincinnati, who wants to add his own kind of sandwich to the menu. Groen has a point. His franchise is in a heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood. He has basically no sales each Friday of Lent:
"So I invented my fish sandwich, developed a special batter, made the tartar sauce and took it to headquarters. Ray Kroc had a meatless sandwich too, He called his sandwich the Hula Burger, It was a cold bun and a slice of pineapple and that was it.
A cold pineapple sandwich!!?!?!?!
Ray said to me, 'Well, Lou, I'm going to put your fish sandwich on (a menu) for a Friday. But I'm going to put my special sandwich on, too. Whichever sells the most, that's the one we'll go with. Friday came and the word came out. I won hands down. I sold 350 fish sandwiches that day. Ray never did tell me how his sandwich did.”
Groen’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich earned a place on the McDonald’s menu. Other franchisee creations include the Egg McMuffin, the Shamrock Shake, the Big Mac and …
👧 It’s now 1976. Yolanda Fernández Cofiño and her husband go to work at the first, and almost bankrupt McDonald’s in Guatemala. They do all the basics: cleaning, staffing, marketing but they also fiddled with the food and created the “Menu Ronald” to help families enjoy their time more at McDonald’s. “Menu Ronald” is different portion sizes and different foods for the kids.
Like the fish sandwich a decade-and-a-half before, the idea makes it to Ray Kroc at McDonald’s Corporate in Chicago. Kroc asks his marketing director Bob Bernstein about it.
Bernstein doesn’t know. Then one morning he’s drinking coffee and his son wakes up. The seven-year-old pads into the kitchen and gets out a bowl, spoon, milk, and cereal. He pours his breakfast. He scoops, lifts, and mouths the cereal.
Then, the boy does what everyone does.
I challenge you to find someone who does not do this.
You’ll need it.
He reads the box.
This is Bernstein’s lightbulb moment. Kids want something to do while they eat. Bernstein creates the first Happy Meal box for McDonald’s. At first, McDonald’s offers themed trinkets like the McWrist Wallet. They expand to toys, movie tie-ins, and zeitgeist tchotchkes like a somewhat disastrous 1999 collaboration with Beanie Babies.
Over the years Happy Meals account for 10-30% of sales.
🎯 Sometimes it feels like change takes a lot of work. We think that to make a change of 100 units we need to spend 100 units—or at least that scale.
Maybe, but maybe not.
Groen’s homemade fish sandwich cost $0.30 in fish and Kroc said it had to be $0.25 to work nationally. That’s manageable. Cofiño reframed and repackaged the food they were already making to be food for kids. Bernstein put the food in a decorated cardboard box.
None of these things were easy, but none of them were proportional to the gains.
That’s the theme of this series, a change in point-of-view can be worth more than forty more IQ. In that spirit, if you come across any good stories send them over.