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Will America’s New Eating Habits Spell the End of McDonald’s?

April 22, 2015

Those famed golden arches are starting to look a little tarnished.

Consumers are finally waking up to healthier eating, and that food revolution is crippling the growth of fast-food chains. McDonald’s, the industry’s icon, just announced its first quarter sales dropped by 2.3 percent. That’s after a miserable year where U.S. comparable sales declined in nine of the past 12 months.

To try to stop the bleeding, company executives announced plans to close 220 of its least successful locations in the U.S. and China. Add to that the 350 other closures in the works, and you’ve got some depressing numbers for the once-unstoppable food giant.

Blame millennials, in part. Studies have shown that the famously independent-minded group—about 59 million to 80 million people—are willing to pay more for higher quality meals. And in a 2014 Consumer Reports survey, McDonald’s came dead last in the race for the tastiest burger.

Plus, millennials are more health-conscious than Gen X and Gen Yers—as many as 24 percent of young people say they care about eating right. That trend is reflected in McDonald’s data: The number of 19- to 21-year-olds visiting the golden arches has dropped nearly 13 percent since 2011, and business from the 22- to 37-year-old crowd was flat.

McDonald’s is doing what it can to right its ship, hiring a new CEO, adding healthier options, and even pledging to limit antibiotic use. But it may be too little too late. Americans are coming around to the idea of farmer’s markets, organic labels, and local eating—basically, slow food. A 75-year-old restaurant specializing in fast, processed food might simply be…behind the times.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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