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McDonald's Perfectly Times Introduction of Fish McBites

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The addition -- just in time for Lent -- is the latest innovation from the fast-food giant.

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The timing coincides with the Christian fasting period of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (February 13) and ends on Easter Sunday (March 30). During Lent, Christians are not supposed to eat meat-with the exception of fish-particularly on Fridays. The move should pay off for McDonald's: According to 2011 figures from Gallup, 76.1% of American adults identify themselves as Christian. The polling firm also found that 55% of Americans said religion was very important to them, while 26% labeled it fairly important.

The move comes as the company takes a more serious approach to food and religion in other countries, as well. As we reported in September, McDonald's is opening two vegetarian-only restaurants in India, both near important religious sites. The meatless menu is significant because the cow is viewed as sacred in the Hindu religion.

McDonald's Is Counting on Menu Innovations to Keep Its Sales Aloft

The company has said that products like Fish McBites are part of its wider plan to tempt diners with limited-time items. McDonald's hopes these moves will help it counter the sluggish global economy, which continues to weigh on its sales.

In the fourth quarter, McDonald's sales rose 2% from a year earlier, to $6.95 billion. That beat the Street's expectation of $6.9 billion. Same-store sales gained just 0.1%. The company earned $1.40 billion, or $1.38 a share, up from $1.38 billion, or $1.33. That was well ahead of the consensus forecast of $1.33.

Consumers tend to eat at home when times are tough, and that's a trend the company is finding difficult to fight. At the same time, it is facing rising competition both at home and abroad from restaurant operators including Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM), owner of Pizza Hut and KFC, The Wendy's Company (NYSE:WEN) and others. To top it off, ingredient costs are rising, and McDonald's also posted strong results a year ago, making it tougher to make gains in more recent quarters.

In light of those pressures, the company also said that it expects negative same-store sales growth in January. For the year, McDonald's forecast 3% to 5% sales growth and an operating income increase of 6% to 7%. The company also plans to spend $3.2 billion this year to add 1,500 to 1,600 new locations around the world and renovate existing outlets.

McDonald's will likely continue to face headwinds until the global economy finds a firmer footing, but management's willingness to take risks on new food items certainly bodes well for the future.

This article by Chad Fraser originally appeared on Investing Daily.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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