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What could McDonald's do to win back customers? A look at some suggestions

In this April 20, 2006 file photo, a McDonald's restaurant logo and golden arch is lit on Chicago's near North Side. After turning in another quarter of sliding sales and profit, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said the company will unveil initial details on a plan to turn around its fortunes on May 4, 2015.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
April 27, 2015 - 8:29 AM

NEW YORK, N.Y. - When it comes to McDonald's, everyone seems to have an opinion about what the company needs to do differently.

After turning in another quarter of sliding sales and profit, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said the chain will unveil initial details on a plan to turn around its fortunes on May 4. Among the challenges it is facing are intensifying competition and an image for serving junk food that it just can't seem to shake.

Already this year, McDonald's has given a nod to the "clean label" trend with a simplified grilled chicken recipe, and announced plans to curb the use of antibiotics in raising chickens. In March, it also hosted a "Turnaround Summit" for franchisees in the U.S.

The company isn't providing specifics on what will be revealed in May. But McDonald's is one of those names that elicit strong opinions from all corners — and many of them conflict:

SERVE EGG MCMUFFINS AROUND THE CLOCK

McDonald's recently began testing an all-day breakfast menu in San Diego, and some are already calling on the company to take it national.

John Gordon, a restaurant industry analyst, said it's just one way McDonald's could start increasing customer visits to stores, given the enormous popularity of its breakfast menu.

For now, most McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. serve breakfast until about 10:30 a.m. In the test, McDonald's is only serving select breakfast items.

ADD VEGGIE LOVE TO THE MENU

People are increasingly seeking out vegetarian options, even if they're not converting into strict vegetarians, said Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for The Humane Society of the United States. He said that means it's time McDonald's offers a vegetarian option.

Shapiro noted that many other chains already court people who feel like skipping meat. Chipotle introduced a vegan topping called Sofritas. Denny's and Johnny Rockets have veggie burgers, and White Castle recently said it would make veggie sliders a permanent part of its menu after their popularity as a limited time offer.

"So many of McDonald's competitors are serving plant-based entrees, and McDonald's is lagging behind," Shapiro said.

RAISE WAGES

In a column in The Chicago Tribune, Easterbrook said he wants to transform McDonald's into "modern, progressive burger company on many fronts," focusing on perceptions about its food and workers.

It came right after McDonald's said it would raise the starting wage for workers to $1 above the local minimum wage. But labour organizers — who are calling for $15 an hour and union — said the move falls far short especially since it only applies to company-owned stores, which account for a tenth of U.S. locations.

Robert Reich, former labour secretary and a supporter of the Fight for $15 campaign, said raising wages across the chain would not only mend the chain's image as an employer, but lower its worker turnover and help business.

GO BACK TO BASICS

While some say McDonald's needs to change more quickly, others say it has strayed too far and needs to get back to focusing on what it does best — affordable burgers and fries.

"Nobody is going to argue that McDonald's fries are bad," said Laura Ries, president of marketing firm Ries & Ries in Atlanta.

She said McDonald's should stop chasing trends and trying to appeal to everyone, she said.

The company is already trying the tactic; earlier this year, an ad featured the Big Mac with a voiceover saying the burger would never be "deconstructed" or "infused," and dismissed trendy ingredients like kale and quinoa.

SEND RONALD PACKING

Ronald McDonald has been a source of tension among some who say the chain uses its mascot to market unhealthy food to children. By retiring the red-headed clown, McDonald's could start rebuilding its trust with many moms, said Jesse Bragg, spokesman for Corporate Accountability International, which has criticized the company's marketing practices.

"It's clear this brand has lost the trust of people," he said.

Those who make a career of impersonating Ronald shouldn't worry, though. Although he had faded to the background for a couple years, McDonald's has defended its spokesclown as a "force of good." Last year, it even gave him a new outfit and said he would be appearing on its social media sites more.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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