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Posted: March 14, 2013

One fish, two fish…

Mickey D's new fish

Laura Cook Newman

Guess who's the biggest purchaser of Alaskan pollock is in the world?  The obvious answer might be Gorton’s (the fisherman you are urged to trust) or Red Lobster.  But think again – it’s that crazy clown down the road from your house - Ronald McDonald. 

Have you been by a Mickey D’s lately and asked yourself, “What the heck is a Fish McBite?”  I first encountered this menu offering last month back East. I assumed this was one of those regional offerings, like the McLobster Roll “down” Maine, or the breakfast burritos in…well…everywhere else.

But back in Colorado, and there it was again.  A light bulb went off: McDonald’s is leveraging Lent. And it’s no longer relying solely on the Filet-o-Fish to cast the biggest net.

The word “king” is decidedly not in McDonald’s nomenclature, but they do rule when it comes to LTO’s.  I tossed out the term when speaking to a non-food service friend who stared at me blankly.  I decided to clue them in on my restaurant vernacular.  “Limited Time Offer?” I suggested, eyebrows raised.  “Ya know, like the McRib?” 

McDonald’s has mastered the LTO, knowing just when to start it or stow it in the vault and bring it back precisely when we crave it the most.  As soon as we’ve been reunited, that fickle clown nabs it, making us sadly hum the poignant Cinderella (think Hair Band, not Disney) ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).”  And that, my friends, is how you create a cult LTO following. 

But why should we care about these seafood morsels?  Because this new menu feature is a semester’s worth of college classes rolled into a deep fried nugget of pollock served with tartar sauce. The advent of McDonald’s Fish McBites tells us about trends in food supply (ecology), distribution (business), religion (theology), nutrition (biology), menu analysis (marketing), and even government (political science).

Recently, I was in Alaska and came across a group of men who were enthusiastically sharing fish stories.  Discovering that I was a chef, they happily educated me on their business – the U.S. Fishery Department.  They were in Anchorage, not to get snockered and karaoke to “It Takes Two," but to network, lobby and learn, all on behalf of the seafood industry.  These guys fly to Anchorage every other month to keep their sub-industries’ best interests on the table, which is a good thing, because they were abysmal as Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.  When McDonald’s launches a nationwide fish LTO for six weeks, you better believe that was a hot topic at one of these meetings. 

The advent of the Fish McBites reinforces that our finned friends are having their biggest heyday since the premier of The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  Have you been to a restaurant in the last year where fish tacos weren’t present and accounted for?  And move over Chicken Nuggets, the Fish McBites are being offered as a Happy Meal.  Apparently, the Millennial Moms want their children to explore new foods and eat something “healthier” than Chicken McNuggets.  It’s a little McWeak of an argument, but it’s McLegit.

So if your kids are like mine, begging you to turn when the Golden Arches appear, you may want to consider a pit-stop. Over your Fish McBites, give them a liberal arts education on all the behind-the-scenes influences that go into their dinner.  It’s cheaper than the tuition at Harvard, and you can wash it down with another cult LTO…the Shamrock Shake.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Thanks all for the "props" on this article, as well as grammatical clarification smile. I greatly appreciate your comments. I hope to make it a regular column, so be on the lookout for more. By Chef Laura on 2013 03 19
Engaging and cleverly "peppered" take...enjoying each read of it. By Hacienda Maven on 2013 03 19
Chef Laura, I love your blog!!! The receipe for the Irish Soda Bread is fabulous! Thanks for the info on the Mcbites. I hope that no one starts a trendy insult like "Mcbite me!" Anyway, what an informative and fun article. I will keep reading, if you'll keep writing. By Mama Mary on 2013 03 17
The first sentence: one too many "is's". 'non food-service' is preferred in context. etc. By Aelius Donatus on 2013 03 15
Well written, informative and very entertaining to boot. As a long time LTO fan I often wondre why some of these great ideas don't stick. Aha! That's the catch(no pun intended) and it works. By SoupCanMan on 2013 03 15
Smart, funny, and educational! As far as LTO Fan is concerned, I do not believe that a LTO could possibly hurt anything. New LTO item gets spot light and other add on sales will make up for any loss LTO marketing may incure. Mickey D's is not short on brains! By Troy on 2013 03 15
Your article is snappy (or should I say al-dente?) and informative. Have you heard the latest? MacDonalds is going to offer a new version of egg mcmuffins----- egg whites and cheese on a whole grain muffin. I guess the ham slice is still in the recipe. This is great news to me because I can't stomach egg yolks and white bread is so unhealthy.Maybe they've seen me toss the yolk part to the seagulls. Hey, maybe they're hoping the gulls will relocate to the seashore where they really belong. By Pamsclams on 2013 03 14
One of the most successful (and probably oldest) LTO's I can think of is "Girl Scout Cookies". These 8 year-olds clean up every spring with their overpriced, yet delicious, Thin Mints and such. If Tag-a-Longs were available at your local King Soopers year-round, would you buy them? Maybe/maybe not. But we buy them from Girl Scouts for 2 reasons beyond taste: 1. To be charitable/nice/support a friend's kid. 2. To be part of the "hype", the "buzz", the "sense of urgency". Over-saturating a market (a la Krispy Kreme) is similar, yet parallel, to the LTO. Beverly Hills based Sprinkles cupcakes has nicely struck the balance between cult followers and accessibility. And don't even get me started on D&D. This Bostonian thinks it's downright criminal that I can't get a box of Munchkins in Denver...yet! By Chef Laura on 2013 03 14
I see that...just saying that IMO Mcribs are gooder (if that's the word I'm looking for) because you can't get them every day. By David Sneed on 2013 03 14
David - not sure the argument that the number of stores selling a product is the same as having the cost of developing an LTO is less profitable in the long run than keeping them on the menu full time. While KK has suffered, there are many reasons for it - accounting irregularities, poor management, etc., you can list many franchises/chains that have not suffered from having too many stores - Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, the list goes on. By LTO Fan on 2013 03 14
LTO fan: Look at how Krispy Creme hurt their brand by making the product so available. They used to be desired because of how hard it was to get them (anywhere but in the Tidewater region.) Now? eh. By David Sneed on 2013 03 14
Chief - my point on the industry is from a Food Manufacturing standpoint, and I was specifically thinking of McDonalds. They seem to be struggling in their core (McDonalds) brand in year over year same store sales (1.5% fall in February). While the LTO is designed to bring folks in, it only works for a short period of time - case in point the McRib. Everyone seems to really like it and want it all the time. Wouldn't McDonalds be better off sustaining that sandwich all year long, rather than diverting resources to the LTO? By LTO Fan on 2013 03 14
DJ ED (EZ?) Rock - I feel your "Joy and Pain" when it comes to the McRib. We tend to want what we can't have. Especially men (the "hunters") who is McDonald's target domegraphic for the McRib. So they are just delaying your gratification. It can't be Christmas EVERY day. By Chef Laura on 2013 03 14
Chef LN, Great insights on LTO's. How can we get Mc Donald's to sell good for you soup? I enjoy the way you keep things light and fun. How about a bowl of New England Clam Chowder? DM By Doug Miller on 2013 03 14
I just left Mickey D's half disappointed. The McRib is done for the season but the Shamrock Shake is still avaiable. I understand why the Shamrock Shake is an LTO with the whole St Patricks Day connection, but I scratch my head as to why the McRibs life span is so short. I would love to understand why and how it qualified as an LTO and not everyday offering. By DJ ED Rock on 2013 03 14
What an awesome article! Insightful, funny, well-written. Pure food-reading bliss! By Dov Cohen on 2013 03 14
LTO Fan - I see your point (and thanks for calling me "Chief" BTW - I LOVE that!) When you say "industry" which one are you referring to? Foodservice? US Fishery? Food Manufacturing? I will happily attempt to assuage your LTO concerns if you can provide more info, s'il vous plait. By Chef Laura on 2013 03 14
Dear McRib-a-Lot, The clown typically launches this culinary delight towrads the end of their fiscal year to bump up Q4 earnings. It was around Nov-Dec last year. But if you're really jonesin', check out: to find the McRib nearest and dearest to you. By Chef Laura on 2013 03 14
I love the McRib, but don't visit the Golden Arches very often. When does this tasty treat usually hit the circuit? By Missing my McRib on 2013 03 14
Chief Laura, I'm wondering if LTO's actually hurt the industry more than helping? The costs associated with bringing a new product to market are astronomical and the pay off for a short term product hardly seems to justify the cost. By LTO Fan on 2013 03 14
I look forward to March all year for reduced priced Filet o' Fish and those addictively minty green shamrock shakes! Thanks for sharing my (not-so-secret) obsession with me! By McLovin' It on 2013 03 14
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