McBites have often been compared to popcorn chicken from places like KFC and Popeye's. They're smaller and crisper than McDonald's signature McNuggets; McBites are also, unlike their squishier compatriots, made of 100% breast meat. (McNuggets have often been criticized for the dubious provenance of their musculature.) Eaters in test markets, which have included Detroit and Phoenix, have reportedly been enthusiastic about the McBites, though some have complained that the price is too high for such a small size. They are selling for $1.99 for 4 oz, approximately five bites, and $4.99 for 16 oz, about 20.
The timing of the McBites news coincides closely with the announcement that McDonald's would be bringing its legendary McRib sandwich to locations nationwide until November 14th. Still, it would be a mistake to ascribe the two to similar motives. The McRib is a limited-edition item with a huge cult following but potentially limited long-run value.
The McBites, on the other hand, have the potential for lasting success. AdAge calls them evidence of a larger move on McDonald's part towards the chicken market, which is currently dominated by brands like KFC and Popeye's. Chicken, even fried chicken, is generally seen as healthier than beef; poultry consumption has consequently grown faster than beef consumption in recent decades.
But even if the McBites are evidence of a new avian strategy, Popeye's and KFC don't need to close shop just yet. The former has been reaping the rewards of a massive rebranding that began in late 2008. Popeye's has even started to diversify away from chicken to a broader profile of Cajun cuisine. And though KFC is faltering in the US, its parent company, YUM Brands, has been riding high on huge profits from its unusually successful entry into the Chinese fast food market.
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