Tucker Savalas’s McRib: not unlike the Belmont Stakes, it feels like the top dog in the cattle market. The world makes up its mind about a rib by the time its grainy carcass is removed from a 12-month gestation period, weighs in with two weeks to go, and is promptly slung into the slaughterhouse or the fast-food truck yard. It’s the retail equivalent of a restaurant job post-gracepoint.
It’s bad news that US stores have stopped selling the stuffed, deep-fried pork shoulder, says Walt Palmieri, chief executive of Michigan-based Ribcity, which is one of few American pork producers willing to make and import the McRib. “People either see it or don’t see it, and that affects sales,” he says.
Actually, sales are growing, too. When Ribcity was founded two decades ago, fewer than 5,000 people placed orders a year for McRibs, and they served fewer than 100,000 rib dinner orders a year. The 2016 batch of ribs sold 10 times that and was ready to sell around the country in a matter of hours. Ribcity now ships the product to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Australia, and Africa, which allow buyers to choose from 10 different varieties of pork and two sauces. The McRib has now become Ribcity’s second most profitable product.
There is no meat shortage: the McRib’s quality, which Palmieri claims is more finely tuned than, say, Angus beef, is reflected in a higher meat-to-food ratio. But sausage is cheap, and there have been no shortages. McRib fans are resilient, as was evidenced by Palmieri’s first order from Sydney. The recipient needed two beef rib kits. The employee did not have time to have a rib kit ready when the representative from the McRib delivery company arrived.
The McRib is now sold in more than 55 countries, and so far several have tried to emulate it. Ribzone tried to do the same thing with its Lidl McRib: sell sliced meat, which tastes like beef but costs 40% less. Formerly a specialist biscuit company, it’s now supplying supermarkets in most western European countries. Ultimately, it decided to abandon Lidl because it failed to find a global distributor.
Britain’s McDonald’s owns the McRib. But one of its 12 UK stores has recently been running a pilot, and is currently training staff to scoop out meat from the McRib packets and chop it into balls for sandwiches. About one million McRibs were ordered in Britain last year, and, starting later this summer, customers in some parts of the UK will be able to order the meal from the grocery store Waitrose, which has bought the right to sell the McRib in some of its stores.
Next month Ribcity is launching a new version of the McRib. Palmieri is calling it the McCam, because it may be close to the height of their best-seller, the deep-fried chicken-and-bacon patty/McRib combo that’s its most popular.
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Along with healthier options, such as the new vegan McRib with applesauce, customers can ask their server to order the McCam, and it will be delivered to the table. If the McCam sells well in these pilot markets, it’s possible that it will soon be sold nationwide. It also gives the McRib a chance to make a comeback.