• Why is the McRib Sandwich only a temporary item at McDonald’s?

    If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit that I love me a Big Mac. And a quarter pounder with cheese. And McDonald’s fries are like crack. But, since I’m trying to eat healthier, I don’t eat them much at all anymore.

    One thing I’ve never even felt tempted to try, though, is the McRib sandwich. That thing looks vile. But, evidently, some people love it. I even dated one of them in college. So why is the McRib not a permanent staple? Kevin Drum highlights a post by Willey Staley with a pretty convincing theory:

    Basically, Staley thinks that McDonald’s sells the McRib only when pork prices are low:

    The theory that the McRib’s elusiveness is a direct result of the vagaries of the cash price for hog meat in the States is simple: in this thinking, the product is only introduced when pork prices are low enough to ensure McDonald’s can turn a profit on the product…

    [T]ake a look at this sloppy chart I’ve taken the liberty of making. The blue line is the price of hogs in America over the last decade, and the black lines represent approximate times when McDonald’s has reintroduced the McRib, nationwide or taken it on an almost-nationwide “Farewell Tour” (McD’s has been promising to get rid of the product for years now).

    Key: 1. November 2005 Farewell Tour; 2. November 2006 Farewell Tour II; 3. Late October 2007 Farewell Tour III; 4. October 2008 Reintroduction; 5. November 2010 Reintroduction.

    The whole post is worth reading.

    My favorite part of all of this is imagining the McRib department at corporate headquarters watching the price of pork fluctuate, desperately waiting for it to dip low enough that they can set off the McRib Signal, alerting the franchises that it’s time to get BBQing!

    And, for the record, this is a 500 calorie sandwich, with nearly half the calories coming from fat. In fact, it has 26g of fat (40% DV), 10g saturated fat (48% DV), and 980 mg of sodium (41% DV). That’s without the fries.

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    • Interestingly, the price of a bar b que pig (say full dressed carcas ~ 90-120 lbs) has been about 99 cents/pound for 20 years from the places I buy them, so that cost has fallen in real terms. I suspect this is because such pigs are often cull animals that will not grade out grade A so are sold locally. In some places you can get them a bit cheaper if you pay cash…..

    • Aaron,

      A coupe of thoughts. My understanding is that as soon as McDonald’s start selling something, they have a significant effect on a market. The McNugget changed the poultry industry in America. The irony is that every time they reintroduce the McRib, it’s success drives up the price. The graph seems to reflect that.

      On the subject of french fries, I love them too, but they don’t taste as good as they used to. Ever since they went to vegetable oil, it’s just not the same. I know, it’s much better for you, but like you I rarely go to McDonald’s. I guess to indulge, I’ll have to make my yearly fast food pilgrimage to see the Colonial instead.

    • McRibs are awesome – aside from the bun, which tends to get soggy – and should be enjoyed like a solar eclipse (an occasional treat that you don’t gaze at too deeply).

    • I had to check google’s images of you, Aaron, to see whether the Big Macs and Quarter Pounders were showing. I’m happy to report that they aren’t.

    • I am happy about this post. Why?

      Dr. Carroll + a big Mac = I’m Love’in it

      My proclivity for McDonalds is now medically acceptable.