The McComeback

Update on my last post: Andrew had a great run in Boston and qualified for next year! We will be back…it was an amazing experience.

The May 2014 edition of Canadian Business magazine has a really interesting article on the last decade for McDonalds in Canada. In 2002, Tim Hortons overtook McDonalds as the largest quick-service chain here, something which would have been unimaginable a few years earlier. But their comeback strategy has apparently worked- restaurant traffic has increased over the last 27 quarters and McDonald’s executives from the United States are paying attention to what McDonalds Canada is doing.

Healthier Options

They’ve done a lot of things to cause this turnaround but the part that caught my eye was their healthier options. They have apples and dip as an alternative to fries in the Happy Meals; a variety of salads; and they feature only milk in their Happy Meal ads. Funny thing though – only 1% of Happy Meals are ordered with milk instead of pop, and only 4% of them are ordered with apples rather than fries. Another article said that their salad sales are only 2-3% of overall sales. (I think their salads are great – always fresh and tasty anytime I’ve had them).

My experience with alternative offerings – in PGB’s case, gluten free and vegan cupcakes- is really similar to McDonald’s: each week on average our gluten free cupcake sales are 2.6% of overall sales and the vegan sales are a mere .07% of our sales. And yet we have loyal g-f and vegan customers who are vocal about their appreciation of these alternatives and who (before we launched vegan a year ago) were even more vocal in their request for vegan cupcakes.

Treading Carefully

So what to make of this? I’m sure there have been doctoral theses on consumers’ demands for healthier options and/or options that meet the requirements of either a voluntary or involuntary dietary restriction – so I  won’t suggest that I have a clue why there can be such a difference between the stated demand and the actual sales. But based on our experience at the bakery, I would caution a small business from responding to every customer request or suggestion on alternative dietary offerings.  Advocates are often really adamant and persuasive and a lot of time and money is needed to develop and launch a new product.

It is important to assess realistically what the sales will be but also to think about the positive “buzz” created by having a healthier/different option. That buzz may have a halo effect on your sales in all categories,  even if the alternative product doesn’t sell well. There is likely an increase in traffic caused by McDonald’s Happy Meal ads showing milk and apples not fries and pop  and at Prairie Girl,  social media that we receive about our vegan and gluten free cupcakes probably reaches other people who then come in and buy “regular” cupcakes. And it could be that event planners/hosts/brides and grooms choose our cupcakes because they know they can also order a few gluten free and vegans ones for those guests who want those options.

Anyway it is interesting and who knew when I opened a cupcake store that I would have something in common with the Golden Arches?!

About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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