McDonald's CEO promises 'affordability' amid backlash over $18 Big Mac combos, $6 hash browns

MONEY & BUSINESS: McDonald’s CEO promises ‘affordability’ amid backlash over $18 Big Mac combos, $6 hash browns

McDonald’s CEO admitted the burger giant’s sales have taken a hit as jacked-up menu prices have turned off core customers — and signaled the chain plans to focus on “affordability” this year.

The Chicago-based fast-food behemoth — which has lately taken heat over a Big Mac combo meal priced at nearly $18 — said its global same-store sales in the latest quarter had grown just 3.4%, falling short of the 4.7% growth Wall Street had expected.

The lackluster quarter — which the company also blamed on conflict in the Middle East that has slammed franchisees overseas — sent McDonald’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange tumbling nearly 4%, to $285.97, at Monday’s close.

“I think what you’re going to see as you head into 2024 is probably more attention to what I would describe as affordability,” McDonald’s chief executive Chris Kempczinski said on a Monday earnings call with analysts.

In particular, low income customers making less than $45,000 per year have largely stopped ordering from McDonald’s. Pummeled by inflation, they’re eating at home more frequently as grocery prices come down, Kempczinski admitted.

McDonald’s president Chris Kempczinski said that the “battleground” will be for the “low income consumer.” REUTERS

“Eating at home has become more affordable,” Kempczinski said. “The battleground is certainly with that low-income consumer.” 

Despite the uproar, McDonald’s customers should brace for even more price hikes this year — albeit at a slower pace of 2% to 3% versus last year’s 10%, restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski told The Post. McDonald’s attempts at “affordability” will likely take the form of targeted deals offered on its mobile app, he predicts.

“App discounts will be a big part of their arsenal,” Kalinowski said.

Last week, a McDonald’s outpost in Connecticut got slammed over its “outrageous pricing” after a customer was charged $7.29 for an Egg McMuffin — and nearly $5.69 for a side of hash browns.

Over the summer, a franchisee in nearby Darien, Conn., was called out for charging $17.59 for Big Mac combo meal. That location also sold a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Bacon meal that came with fries and a soda for $19, according to viral posts.

US customers are ordering fewer or less expensive items from McDonald’s restaurants. NurPhoto via Getty Images

McDonald’s said it expects US growth to moderate to between 3% and 4% compared to its 4.3% US growth in the most recent quarter. Most of that growth came from “increased menu prices,” the company said.

Meanwhile, all the company’s business regions worldwide registered positive growth with the exception of the Middle-East, where McDonald’s franchisees have seen a “meaningful business impact,” Kempczinski said in January via a LinkedIn post. 

The burger boss also has blamed “misinformation” about McDonald’s position on the Israel-Hamas war, echoing other companies including Starbucks who have said that boycotts of their stores were due to a false narrative that they had taken a position on the war.

In the days following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, the “local owner operator” distinction was lost on a mob of protesters in Lebanon who ransacked a local McDonald’s restaurant after McDonald’s Israel franchises said they would offer free meals to Israeli soldiers taking part in military operations in Gaza.

McDonald’s says “misinformation” about its position on the Middle-East war has contributed to a negative sentiment about the brand. NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Israeli and Hamas war has dented McDonald’s international sales as customers boycott the restaurant. Anadolu via Getty Images

About 10% of McDonald’s 18,000 restaurants overseas are located in the Middle East, accounting for 12% of international sales, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

 “We do not expect to see meaningful improvement until there is a resolution in the Middle East,” the company’s chief financial officer, Ian Borden, said on the analyst call.

Experts have also warned that fast food prices could climb even higher as minimum wage hikes are implemented across the country. California’s $20-an-hour minimum wage for fast food workers goes into effect in April. 

McDonald’s and Chipotle both announced that they would be hiking the prices of menu items at Golden State locations beginning this year.

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