Despite McDonald’s beating earnings estimates in late October with a remarkable 14% year-over-year revenue increase, CEO Chris Kempczinski has expressed his reservations. The fast food giant, which recently reported its Q3 earnings, announced a robust 8.8% surge in the coveted same-store sales metric, surpassing analysts’ expectations of 7.79%.
In the United States, revenue climbed by 8.1%, largely driven by strategic menu price increases, as Kempczinski pointed out. He stated, “The macroeconomic environment is unfolding as anticipated, and we continue to provide convenience and value to our customers.”
However, even if the macroeconomic outlook aligns with McDonald’s predictions, it doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term prosperity. One specific concern looms large for the company, and that’s the state of California.
In mid-October, California implemented a new minimum wage law, raising the hourly rate to at least $16, an increase of $0.50 from the previous standard of $15.50 per hour. This new law will take effect on January 1, 2024, ensuring that all localities pay their employees the new established rate, including fast food workers at places like McDonald’s. Furthermore, a newly-established California fast food council may consider raising the rate again after January 1, 2025, according to the California Labor & Employment Law Blog.
McDonald’s anticipates this change to have a direct impact on its bottom line. Kempczinski acknowledges that there will be a need for price adjustments, and franchisees and teams in California will explore productivity improvements to mitigate the effects. In an effort to maintain margins, McDonald’s may adjust prices for its customers, although the extent of these changes remains uncertain.
Looking ahead, McDonald’s views this as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge because this wage increase will affect all fast food competitors. Kempczinski believes that McDonald’s is better positioned to weather this challenge than its rivals.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has referred to this new law as a significant development, aiming to reward the contributions and sacrifices of fast food industry workers and stabilize the sector. While fast food prices have been on the rise in recent years, the underlying reasons for these changes are multifaceted.
Factors contributing to price increases include rising minimum-wage labor costs, ingredient price inflation, and supply chain disruptions. The fast food industry, like many others, has faced these challenges, leading to higher menu prices.
On a broader scale, the increase in fast food prices may prompt consumers, especially those not reliant on fast food for affordability, to critically evaluate the conditions underpinning their value meals. The pandemic highlighted that low-cost food often comes with hidden costs.
Fast food’s connection to issues of inequality and poverty in the United States is a complex one. Nutritional and culturally relevant food is often less accessible in low-income neighbourhoods. Government initiatives, like the one Nixon’s administration introduced in the late 1960s, facilitated the expansion of fast food chains into these areas. This has left many urban communities with fast food options but limited access to affordable, fresh, and healthy groceries.
Despite the perception that fast food is primarily consumed by lower-income individuals, research suggests that wealthier individuals actually consume more fast food. This underscores the difference between choosing fast food for convenience and doing so out of necessity, particularly for those with limited access to affordable groceries.
While the price of fast food continues to rise, it’s important to remember that fast food companies are multinational corporations and cannot replace the role of government in providing essential nutrition assistance. Meeting the needs of Americans struggling with food insecurity is a responsibility that largely falls on the government.