Ronald McDonald Put to Pasture as Fast-Food Chain Gentrifies

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As clowns' careers go, Ronald McDonald has had a pretty good run -- he's been the face of McDonald's (MCD) for 48 years. But as fans of the jester may have noticed, he hasn't been featured much lately in the company's advertisements.

There's a reason for that. Facing increased competition from more upscale chains, such as Starbucks (SBUX), McDonald's today is more focused on selling profitable coffee drinks and salads rather than Big Macs and kids' Happy Meals, reports Bloomberg News.

The company is also revamping its restaurants, adding padded seating and free WiFi to lure more diners. All that nouvelle sophistication leaves little room for a buffoon in a bright yellow suit and ridiculously large red shoes.

"We haven't been seeing a lot of Ronald McDonald," Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, told the news agency. "They're beginning to appeal to much more sophisticated individuals."

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And that's Ronald's problem. Consumers link him to the old, high-fat foods that are increasingly falling out of favor with many Americans.

McDonald's has sought for years to remake its image by offering more healthful food items and adding gourmet coffee items to its menu. The company's McCafé coffee products helped to revive sales, pushing up revenues in six of the last seven quarters, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company says.

McDonald's isn't putting Ronald out to pasture all together. His name, after all, does grace the company's charitable arm, Ronald McDonald House Charities. Ronald still plays an ambassador role, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg. He just isn't tied to the menu.

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