In Ten Years: McDonald's
Expect a whole new clientele to be "lovin' it" in the not-too-distant future.
A trip to McDonald's (MCD) still promises the same sights and smells as it did 30 years ago. Add a salad here, omit a transfat there, but you'll always be able to drive up to the window and order a Big Mac, large fries and a Coke.
While the company has stuck with a pretty rigid identity, it does have a history of adapting.
Environmental concerns over waste management have forced McDonald's execs to switch to more biodegradable packaging as well as to reduce the company's greenhouse-gas output. The public's growing interest in healthier alternatives -- not to mention prominent roles as the villain in Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me -- factored heavily in the restaurant's decision to add salads, wraps and fruits to the menu. And this year, McDonald's announced an end to transfats in its french fries and baked goods.
The next 10 years will see an adoption of more recyclable material as well as separate receptacle bins for cups, plastic lids and leftover food - some European branches already have them already. By 2018, McDonald's might even take a cue from chains like Panera and provide reusable silverware in place of landfill-clogging plastic untensils.
Recently, fast food restaurants has experienced an uptick in sales from cash-strapped customers looking to benefit from inexpensive -- albeit highly unhealthful -- value meals. With worldwide economies struggling through a global recession and health-consciousness at an all-time high, the #1 fast food chain has an enormous opportunity for change.
Once the global economy gets back on its feet, the public will look at all those cheeseburger wrappers and finally come to its senses: It's time to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Apple Dippers are just the beginning.
America's obesity epidemic will require drastic changes to the menu. Sure, McDonald's will always have hamburgers and fries, but an even greater portion of the menu will include fruits, vegetables, soy and various organic products. Big Macs comprised of veggie or tofu patties will not be uncommon, nor will soy milkshakes and carob brownies. Along with the recently introduced McCafes, there will be juice bars offering up carrot, celery and cucumber mixes for the patrons relaxing on love seats and armchairs.
While half of McDonald's loyal customers will probably turn their noses up at the healthier alternatives, the other half -- and a great many more -- will embrace them. The base will surely grow.
It's unlikely that beef will be abandoned in the next 10 years, but concerns about farm conditions will play a role in McDonald's future. Animal rights groups have lobbied for a greater number of free-range animal farms and more humane treatment. The more airtime these issues receive, the sooner fast-food companies like McDonald's will adapt to keep customers happy.
As the fast food chain's cuisine becomes a bit more sophisticated, the decor could use an overhaul to reflect a classier atmosphere. Rather than elevated plastic discs next to a four-foot-tall counter, customers will find elements from modern-day Starbucks popping up: Padded, free-standing seats, throw rugs, and amateur art on the walls.
Who knows? Maybe the higher-end branches will even have waitstaff. "Family dining" doesn't have to entail fluorescent lighting and ketchup-stained tabletops.
Or at the very least -- so as not to encourage petty crime -- the Hamburglar could be phased out completely.
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