Wendy's introduced the now beloved sea-salt french fries and even Burger King got away from its mushy, fat french fries by introducing the same thin style fries as McDonald's. Burger King even has crinkle fries.
And it's not just fries we're talking about here. Wendy's and Burger King have started to attack different parts of the menu upon which McDonald's built its success: breakfast items, the dollar menu, and frappes and coffee.
Make no mistake about it, McDonald's was the king of fast food, but its throne has been under siege for the past few years.
I used to go to McDonald's solely for its fries. I liked Wendy's burgers, but its fries used to be horrible.
But now that McDonald's competitors have brought their fries up to snuff, it doesn't matter much to me what fast food restaurant I eat at. For the most part now, I prefer stopping at a Panera Bread (PNRA) or a Tim Hortons (THI) (but the secular shift of healthy eating is a different story).
So McDonald's decision to introduce a new fry -- Shakin' Flavor Fries -- is a great move. The company needs something, anything to get customers coming back in the door.
Trying to maintain the status quo is no longer working. New products are necessary, even if it's the successful original french fry that needs changing.
Last year when I was trekking through Europe, I found myself actually eating at a McDonald's in Italy.
I think I desperately needed WiFi, since I try not to eat anything I can eat in America while I'm abroad.
Anyhow, the company had what were called Miami Fries (pronounced: Mee-am-ee fries).
Man, those were some of the best fries. Seriously, they were delicious. So delicious in fact that I did some research on them, and was disappointed to find out that they were only available in Italy, and not available in the U.S. (despite their name).
The Miami Fries would make me go back to the McDonald's-or-nothing mindset for fast food. That's exactly what it needs to do; convince the millions of customers that have decided, eh, it's all just fast food, it doesn't matter, that it actually does matter.
For me, the better fry is what got me in the door. The "equalized" fry from competitors is what got me to think that where I ate, didn't matter. McDonald's has lost its luster and new fries might just be the start of something different and better.
At the time of publication, Kenwell was long shares of PNRA.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
-- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich.
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