McDonald's reported that same-store sales in July were flat worldwide, and it's getting some social-media flack because of its Olympics sponsorship — neither of which casts a rosy pall on the present reality of its business. But as the chain moves further into the new era of new CEO Don Thompson, it continues to innovate, test and probe for fresh ways to expand the brand, the franchise and its business model. Now those trials include breakfast in the wee hours of the night.
Thanks to the stagnating U.S. economy and greater competition globally, McDonald's reported that sales last month at stores open at least 13 months were unchanged worldwide while sales at domestic locations fell by 0.1 percent. Analysts had expected better on both counts. Meanwhile, because it's a purveyor of fat- and calorie-and sugar-laden products that global citizens want to eat — in contrast with the lean, healthy image of Olympians — McDonald's has been getting more criticism on Twitter than the two dozen other big Olympic sponsors, according to an analysis by WPP's MediaCom.
Tapping into health-conscious promised during the Summer Olympics, McDonald's U.S. has been promoting a "Favorites Under 400 Calories" menu as part of its Team USA campaign, personifying some of the items as seductively attractive in two national television commercials.
The 400-calorie push is the leading edge of McDonald's effort to prepare for a mandate that is coming down the pike from the White House: forcing restaurants to display calorie information right on their menus, not in the fine print or on some flyer lying around the place. That seems like a good reason to remind people now that the Egg McMuffin carries only 300 calories even while a Big Mac weighs in at 550 calories.
But the health impetus isn't stopping McDonald's U.S. from wooing diners to eat around the clock — a relatively unhealthy practice if you're trying to lose weight, or get more sleep for that matter — as the brand continues to look for ways to exploit relatively unexplored parts of the U.S. fast-food market.
That's why it first began serving breakfast decades ago, in addition to its initial staples of hamburgers, fries and Cokes for lunch and dinner. As it starts testing post-midnight food service, it's not alone, but it's certainly getting the most scrutiny.
Just as Starbucks is trying to open up a low-traffic daypart with alcohol sales, McDonald's is testing a "Breakfast After Midnight" menu for the relatively untapped "fourth daypart" — between 2 and 5 a.m. — as part of a limited-market test of its Nocturnivore menu.
As it converts stores to 24-hour operations in Ohio and Florida, a "Nocturnivore" menu and campaign is promoting late-night dining of not only "dinner" but "breakfast" items. Less than 1 percent of total fast-food traffic comes in during those hours, according to NPD — but 1 percent is still 1 percent. (Now, if McDonald's could just make its breakfast items available a little later in the morning...)
Below, Sojourner Marable Grimmett, one of the mom bloggers invited to participate in its "Wholesome Choices" blogger program, posted this video tribute to the Breakfast After Midnight initiative at a blogger preview in Atlanta earlier this year: