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Shannon Stevens, of Chicago, is busy polishing off a hot fudge sundae at a downtown McDonald's, the cap to a meal of McDouble cheeseburgers. The 20-year-old is something of a regular, visiting the fast-food giant about twice a week, but the desserts aren't the major draw.
"I like the chocolate sundaes and the shakes," he said, but noting that McDonald's needs to add more chocolate items if it wants to lure him from a traditional favorite like Dunkin' Donuts or Dairy Queen when he's craving something sweet. Turns out, McDonald's is thinking along similar lines.
With restaurants that already circle the globe, the fast-food giant has embraced myriad strategies to keep sales growing, extending its restaurant hours and adding healthier items as well as upscale coffee drinks. Now, the world's largest restaurant chain by sales is aiming to transform itself into a "dessert destination," moving beyond apple pies and shakes in an effort to plump up sales in a relatively small segment of its business. "It's just one of those things that fell into our laps as something customers want," said Adam Salgado, marketing director with McDonald's USA.
McDonald's, Salgado said, first got a taste of what a smaller, novel dessert could do for sales last summer, when the chain offered a "snack-size" McFlurry with Reese's cups, tied to a movie promotion for "Shrek Forever After." He declined to provide specific sales data. But results were promising enough for the Oak Brook-based burger chain to repackage its shakes in clear cups, adding whipped cream and a cherry, and introduce a small-size shake, at 12 ounces, for the first time earlier this year.
"Most people, when the economy is tough, turn to desserts as comfort food and an indulgent way of getting past a tough day or a tough life," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic.