Most people are probably used to it by now: the periodic announcement that McDonald’s pressed pork sandwich is, once again, available for purchase and ingestion. The news flash is inevitably followed by a flurry of excited commentary, both pro and con, trumpeting the sweet industrial horror that is the McRib.
The fast food giant’s irregular porcine offering presents numerous mysteries to the discriminating consumer, such as: What is a ‘restructured’ meat product? And how good can ‘pork slurry’ be? I suppose one bite will tell you, but that leaves another enduring question: Why does the McRib come and go?
Willy Staley, a writer at the always awesome Awl, tackles that very issue in a fascinating new essay, “A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage.” The piece touches on many interesting details about the oft-maligned sandwich, from Reagan-era labor practices to American regional variations in pork preparation techniques, but the crux of the argument is all about economics. In crude sum, Staley suggests that the periodic appearance of the mighty McRib has more to do with the price of hog meat than anything else. McDonald’s jumps into the pork sandwich game whenever hog prices drop, which usually coincides with a period of weak aggregate demand in the US economy and thus flagging sales down at your local golden arches.
Staley can’t prove his thesis, of course, since McDonald’s isn’t likely to share the secrets of its McRib strategy. But it’s an intriguing argument, backed by data, and well worth the read. If nothing else, it’ll let you say “McRib” a few more times today than you might have otherwise.
Photo by Flickr user theimpulsivebuy.