McDonald's brings back its lobster roll
Think McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) and you most likely picture two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun, not pieces of North Atlantic lobster.
In fact, the idea of ordering lobster at McDonald's sounds a bit like getting gas station sushi, or purchasing your champagne at 7-11. Despite the seeming incongruity, the fast-food chain brought back its lobster roll for the first time in a decade last summer and is returning it to its menu in 600 locations throughout New England and the Albany, New York, area starting June 20.
At $8.99 the lobster roll instantly becomes the most expensive item on the chain's menu by a few dollars, but people were willing to pay for it last summer, according to chef Michael Haracz, manager of culinary innovation at McDonald's USA.
"It's exciting to see a high demand for regional flavors at McDonald's," he said in a press release. "Our Lobster Roll is made with quality ingredients, freshly prepared in our kitchens and exactly what our customers enjoy from McDonald's. This sandwich is the perfect blend of ingredients to give you a great-tasting summer sandwich from McDonald's."
Is it really lobster?
Since McDonald's has actually addressed whether its hamburgers are made of beef and its McNuggets are made of chicken, it's reasonable to ask what actually goes into the lobster roll. The company says the sandwich contains 100% North Atlantic lobster meat, which is tossed with mayonnaise in a stainless steel bowl, layered on leaf and shredded lettuce then served chilled on a home-style toasted roll.
"The lobster we supply to McDonald's is a hand-picked, artisan quality product, caught by seasoned veterans of the industry," said Stephen Felsenthal of Mazzetta Company, LLC, one of McDonald's regional lobster suppliers. "This is the same quality lobster served at white tablecloth restaurants on the East Coast."
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Is it any good?
Reviews of the McDonald's lobster roll have been mixed.
"The limp bun holds a bizarrely large amount of lettuce, both shredded and whole-leaf, neither of which is anything more than filler," Eater food blogger Adam Callagan wrote when it was released last year. "There's plenty of mayo, liberally mashed in with globs of shredded lobster meat in some awful sort of seafood salad."
Callagan finished his review noting, "If you didn't see what you were eating, I don't think you'd guess, and I doubt you'd continue."
That opinion echoed what many reviewers said about the sandwich, but there were some positive reviews.
"It was a pretty good lobster roll," wrote Suzie the Foodie last summer. "I have had better and I have had much worse when I lived on the East Coast."
McDonald's is not alone
While McDonald's may be the most surprising chain to offer the high-end shellfish, D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches also offers a lobster sandwich made with "100% real lobster" while Panera (NASDAQ: PNRA) has had one in the past (though it has not brought the seasonal item back this year).
In 2015, the Hartford Courant reviewed all three and found Panera's the best, though it also noted that it's also the priciest. "Panera's seasonal lobster roll is the most gourmet of the quick-service options, but it comes at a price — you're in for over $20 with tax and a drink," wrote The Courant's Leanne Griffin. "But that gets you a rather sizable sandwich, loaded with six ounces of sweet meat dressed lightly in a pleasant lemon-tarragon mayonnaise."
Griffin was also charitable toward the McDonald's product calling it "a fine, quick summer treat if you can't get to the shore." That's not a rave review, but it's not a pan either.
Is this good for business?
Seasonal and regional items have done well for McDonald's. In this case the chain not only gets a higher-priced item, which the company called a "hit" last summer in its press release, it also gets people talking. Lobster may be a more logical fit on the somewhat more upscale Panera menu, but people do appear to be buying it and it's certainly attention-getting.
A McDonald's lobster roll may seem as silly as Kmart opening open store-within-a store Lexus dealerships, but somehow it works.
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