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Saving Mickey D's Bacon


For troubled McDonald's (MCD) Corp., the second quarter delivered good news. Sales rose a strong 4.9%, as the company seemed to snap out of its long torpor. And most pundits credited the burger chain with a sort of deathbed conversion to more healthful food: Much of the gain came from the strong performance of a popular new line of salads. But there was another side to the turnaround -- one that owes nothing to greens and everything to grease.

The McGriddles breakfast sandwich, launched nationwide in June, is everything a salad isn't. A couple of syrup-drenched pancakes, stamped with a Golden Arches "M", act as top and bottom "buns" holding in eggs, cheese, sausage, and bacon in three different combinations starting at about $1.89. The gut-busting mix -- which comes to 550 calories, 33 grams of fat, and 260 milligrams of cholesterol -- has taken off like wildfire, sending McDonald's morning sales soaring.

Moreover, the throwback to a pre-Pilates world has sparked a cult-like fascination. Many Web sites that appeal to a younger, hipper demographic have active message postings and forums on McGriddles. ApeChild.com, a Web site "for the primate in all of us," gave McGriddles a four-banana rating and proclaimed it a hangover helper. X-Entertainment.com's review noted that, with all the grease, McGriddles' wrappers become "translucently oily, which is a great way for illiterate people to tell" which of the McGriddles variations is inside. Even Howard Stern couldn't resist delving into McGriddles on his morning radio show. The shock jock claimed he would love to be the McGriddles spokesperson and went on to do a commercial spoof on the "juicy delicious pancake, 75,000 of the best calories you'll ever taste."

Not all the reviews are positive, of course. McGriddles got put in the Hall of Shame by eDiets.com (EDET), which suggested that the syrupy M on top stood for murder. Various groups were already targeting McDonald's burgers, fries, and other fast-food for their contribution to obesity. Even McDonald's ads promote McGriddles as "Bizarre, but yummy." The company says, however, that the rollout was a huge hit. It won't provide sales numbers, but Lisa Frick, director of menu management at McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., says: "June was the highest breakfast sales month for McDonald's in 13 years." McGriddles are now second only to the sausage McMuffin with egg among McDonald's highest-selling breakfast items.

Of course, the chain has a history of launching offbeat concoctions with a lot of gusto, then losing interest. Remember the Grilled Chicken Flatbread sandwich? McDonald's made a point of saying it wouldn't do that with McGriddles and the new salads, calling them "permanent" additions to its menu. Still, some fans aren't taking any chances: Flak Magazine's Web review suggested that readers "buy one now, before the novelty fades like pork fat dissolving in hand soap and water." Yum. By Pallavi Gogoi in Chicago


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