NEW YORK—McDonald's is fighting to hold onto customers as the Big Mac turns 50, but it's not messing with the makings of its most famous burger.
The company is celebrating the 1968 national launch of the double-decker sandwich whose ingredients of “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun” were seared into American memories by a TV jingle.
But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of U.S. stores.
McDonald's said last week that customers are visiting less often. Other more trendy burger options are reaching into the heartland.
The “Golden Arches” still have a massive global reach, and the McDonald's brand of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries remains recognizable around the world. But on its critical home turf, the company is toiling to stay relevant.
Kale now appears in salads, fresh has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders, and some stores now offer ordering kiosks, food delivery and barista-style cafes.
The Big Mac remains unchanged, showing just how much McDonald's and the rest of fast-food have evolved.
“Clearly, we've gotten a little more sophisticated in our menu development,” McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a phone interview.
As with many of its popular and long-lasting menu items, the idea for the Big Mac came from a franchisee.
In 1967, Michael James “Jim” Delligatti lobbied the company to let him test the burger at his Pittsburgh restaurants.
Messing with a signature menu item can be taboo, but keeping the Big Mac unchanged comes with its own risks.
Newer chains such as Shake Shack and Five Guys offer burgers that can make the Big Mac seem outdated. Even White Castle is modernizing, recently adding plant-based “Impossible Burger” sliders at some locations.
A McDonald's franchisee fretted in 2016 that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac.
The Big Mac had “gotten less relevant,” the franchisee wrote in a memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.
McDonald's then ran promotions designed to introduce the Big Mac to more people. Those kind of periodic campaigns should help keep the Big Mac relevant for years to come, says Mike Delligatti, the son of the Big Mac inventor, who died last year.
“What iconic sandwich do you know that can beat the Big Mac as far as longevity?” said Delligatti, himself a McDonald's franchisee.