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Food by VICE

Almost None of Your Friends Have Ever Tried a Big Mac

Only a tiny fraction of millennials have ever tasted a Big Mac—and that's not the only reason McDonald's is freaking out.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Oct 8 2016, 5:00pm

McDonald's once had an entire advertising campaign that involved nothing but naming the components of a Big Mac. Disembodied voices singing "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" might've captivated the country's attention in 1974, but so did the music of John Denver. It was a strange time. Several decades later, a new generation of customers has discovered that there's really nothing special about that Special Sauce—or about the rest of the burger either—and McDonald's is trying to figure out what to do about it.

One weary McDonald's franchisee sent a memo to his fellow Mac-slingers earlier this summer, lamenting that the chain's signature burger "has gotten less relevant." That could be because millennials aren't exactly lining up under the Golden Arches anymore; according to the Wall Street Journal, just one in five millennials has actually eaten a Big Mac (and who knows what sad percentage of them even bothered to Snapchat it).

McDonald's sales have been slumping for the past few years, partially because an increasing number of consumers are choosing "fast casual" over straight-up fast food. In 2015, the fast casual category—including chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread Co.—saw an 11.4 percent increase in sales. McDonald's, meanwhile, saw only a 1.1 percent sales increase, driven largely by the introduction of all-day breakfast.

The fast-food giant is currently trying to figure out how to make the Big Mac (and the rest of its menu) relevant again. It has hired a panel of "Sensory Experts" to compare its own burgers to other chains' and to determine what it could do to make those Macs great again. The problem is that even though diners might want a better tasting burger, they don't want to pay for it—at least not at McDonald's. Its sirloin burger quietly came and went last year, and its disappointing sales have been unofficially pinned to its $5 price tag.

While McDonald's tries to decide whether to switch from frozen to fresh beef, the coveted millennial demographic is busy eating at Five Guys, Smashburger or Shake Shake. They're already paying $5 for those burgers, but they don't seem to mind; according to the Journal, from December 2013 through Q2 this year, there has been an 11 percent increase in the number of millennial customers who eat at Smashburger once a month. Maybe McDonald's should just go back to singing its ingredients. That worked, once.