Photo: By on.sospiro on Flickr
New product development always has a level of risk attached to it, and for fast food companies like McDonald’s, the pace of the business requires the constant creation of new menu items.McDonald’s has hundreds of different products that are offered in locations worldwide, but for every tremendously successful one like the iconic Big Mac, there’s a spectacular failure.
Why? Ineffective marketing, bad product launches and consumer reluctance for change are common. But when you’re dealing with food, there’s always the simplest of reasons: people just don’t like the taste.
We’ve compiled 12 of the biggest failures McDonald’s has ever had. Some fizzled into obscurity, while others vanished completely.
The McLobster is pretty much lobster meat shoved in a hot dog bun with 'McLobster sauce' and shredded lettuce. Like its much more successful compatriot the McRib, it appears every once in a while across the country as a promotion, only to vanish weeks later.
The fabled McLobster drew some hype earlier this year when rumours swirled about its reappearance nationwide. It's currently only available in parts of New England and eastern Canada.
There are a couple factors that gutted the McLobster's hopes of making it to the big time. It costs a hefty $5.99, which consumers are reluctant to pay for a single sandwich. Plus, it's incredibly difficult to market a 'quality' shellfish item at a fast food joint.
The McGratin Croquette (known as Gurakoro in Japan) was a particularly strange item, specially created for the Japanese market. It contains deep fried macaroni, shrimp and mashed potatoes. 8tokyo.com describes the texture of the inside of the croquette as 'fluffy and creamy.'
Most attribute its failure to its taste, but the marketing of the McGratin Croquette didn't match up well with the Japanese audience either. Somehow, it still manages to make a surprise appearance every so often in Japan only.
McDonald's founder Ray Kroc had countless successes with his items, but this wasn't one of them.
The meatless Hula Burger was meant for Catholics who abstained from eating meat every Friday. Instead of a beef or chicken patty, its bun contained a grilled pineapple slice, topped with cheese.
The idea behind it made sense -- the execution just didn't work. People simply didn't like it. McDonald's killed the Hula Burger early on, as it became quickly evident that its alternative, the Filet-o-Fish, was getting much better traction.
McDonald's developed new pizza items in the late 1980s in its push to start offering dinner items, but it had some inherent problems right from the get-go.
The made-to-order pizza took far longer to make than the usual McDonald's fare, and consumers just weren't willing to wait for food that was supposed to be fast. There was also the McPizza, which resembled Hot Pockets and failed miserably.
Competition in the pizza industry was intense, and McDonald's pizzas didn't have the pull to take customers away from the big chains like Domino's and Pizza Hut. But also, it just wasn't consistent with the McDonald's brand. People went to McDonald's for burgers and fries, not pizza.
Another one of those dinner items, McSpaghetti just couldn't get it quite right. There was also lasagna and fettucini alfredo, along with side dishes in the form of mashed potatoes with gravy and a vegetable medley. It went down quickly with the rest of that dinner menu.
It's still available in some international markets, and even has a bit of a cult following.
The McAfrika was one of the biggest marketing catastrophes McDonald's ever caused for itself. It contained beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pita-like sandwich.
It was released in 2002 during a slew of famines in southern Africa. McDonald's apologized and pulled the item, once the PR crisis heated up.
McDonald's did it again with the McAfrica in a 2008 promotion for the Olympics. Unsurprisingly, it received a similar negative outcry.
The Arch Deluxe debuted in 1996 and was meant to target (and only target) McDonald's adult customers, but it bombed massively. The burger was a quarter-pounder with peppered bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, ketchup and a secret sauce.
It's been considered one of the most expensive product failures in McDonald's history, primarily due to the $100 million marketing campaign that accompanied it. Advertisements depicted children disgusted with the burger, and Ronald McDonald playing adult sports.
A decade later, McDonald's tried a similar sandwich in Japan, called the Tomato McGrand. It failed too.
The taste of the McHotDog was acceptable to consumers, and there were no scandals behind the scenes or within the bun.
But the failure of McHotDog was a branding issue. Even what seemed like a low-risk, simple product never caught on because McDonald's consumers just didn't equate the brand with the type of food. It made a few comebacks during the mid-1990s as a seasonal item in select mid-western US restaurants.
It has since reappeared in Japan, where consumers are used to McDonald's offering a wider variety of options.
McDonald's introduced the McDLT in the mid-1980s. It was a simple burger with lettuce and tomato, but came in a styrofoam package with separated the lettuce and tomato from the beef patty, keeping the veggies cool and the meat warm.
All was going well for the McDLT until a PR crisis squashed it. The country was becoming increasingly conscious about the environment, and the double-container caused double the damage.
McDonald's pulled the ill-fated McDLT from its menu in 1990, after a 6-year run.
The McLean Deluxe was another one of McDonald's earlier efforts to be perceived as more health-conscious. It was more a cousin to its predecessor the McDLT than the similarly-named Arch Deluxe which appeared half a decade later.
Introduced in 1991, the burger was advertised as 91% fat-free, but what doomed the McLean Deluxe was what McDonald's did to get it that way.
McDonald's replaced much of the fat with water and injected carrageenan (seaweed) in order to get the patty to stay together. It performed well in initial taste tests, but it didn't sell well once it went live.
The Big N' Tasty was yet another attempt to defeat Burger King's Whopper, a feat its predecessors -- the McDLT and Big Xtra -- failed to do.
While not a complete failure, consumer preferences had leaned towards another line of McDonald's items in recent years -- the Angus burgers -- and the company decided to cut the Big N' Tasty from its menu earlier this year.
McDonald's started offering super-sized meals in 1993, and fast-food-goers gobbled it up. But it all went downhill in 2004 when independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me was released. The film showed Spurlock eating nothing but McDonald's for a month, and how it negatively affected his body.
It was a PR disaster for McDonald's, and the company had no choice but to start pulling super-sizing from its menus. By the end of 2004, super-sized portions were gone forever.
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