New York — McDonald’s unveiled its new growth strategy to investors, with everything from a long-awaited US loyalty programme to a crispy chicken sandwich on the agenda in a bid to maintain growth.

The plan comes one year — nearly to the day — into Chris Kempczinski’s tenure as CEO. Under the new strategy, dubbed “Accelerating the Arches”, the company expects system-wide sales growth in the mid-single digits in 2021, compared to 2019 levels, with unit growth contributing another 1.5%-2% in 2022.

“In countries around the world we have seen customer behaviours change at an unprecedented pace over the last several months,” Kempczinski said in a statement on Monday announcing the multipronged plan, which touches an array of topics from marketing to menu items. “This presents an opportunity to do something special as we write the next great chapter of McDonald’s.”

Kempczinski has given plenty of clues into his vision for the fast-food giant since he took the helm, including creating in January an entirely new executive position to oversee digital customer engagement. He’s also rolled out limited-edition celebrity meals featuring Travis Scott and J Balvin in the company’s home market and tested trendy items, including spicy chicken nuggets, to fuel a return to US growth.

Earlier on Monday the company reported better-than-expected results for the third quarter. McDonald’s shares were up 9.6% this year through Friday, just ahead of the S&P 500.

But there’s still room to do more, especially as drive-through and digital boom during the pandemic. McDonald’s will be investing in more technology, including an app called “MyMcDonald’s” that will suggest to customers tailored offerings and include a new loyalty component. Investors have been waiting for a US loyalty programme to rival Starbucks’s popular one for years, beyond the McCafe digital punch card already available.

The burger chain will start testing the US loyalty programme in the Phoenix area in the next few weeks. It will then roll out “MyMcDonald’s” across its top six markets by the end of 2021. Those markets — the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and France — will see digital sales exceed $10bn, or nearly 20% of system-wide sales, this year.

With digital offerings increasingly important, McDonald’s is also planning to test a new restaurant concept that offers drive-through, delivery and takeaway only.

In terms of product, McDonald’s will be focusing on its core menu items — Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Chicken McNuggets and fries — which make up about 70% of food sales in its biggest markets. Burgers will get “a series of operational, process and formulation changes”, the company said, including new toasted buns and an enhanced grilling method “to unlock more flavour”. Packaging is also due for a global redesign.

The company will also be introducing a new crispy chicken sandwich in the US early in 2021. Chicken has been growing faster than beef, with competitor Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s fried-chicken sandwich so popular in 2019 that an altercation over one turned deadly.

The revamped strategy comes more than three years after the company’s last road map, its “Velocity Growth Plan”. Under the new plan operating margins will be in the low-to-mid 40s percent-wise, it said, while capital expenditures will be about $2.3bn. It told investors it also intends to keep paying dividends and returning to pre-Covid debt ratios.

“Our solid financial position and business foundation has been a source of strength through the pandemic,” CFO Kevin Ozan said in a statement. “We are confident that Accelerating the Arches builds on our momentum and will drive long-term profitable growth for all stakeholders.”


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