McDonald’s New Packaging – Lovin’ It?

Over the next two years, McDonald’s will roll out its new packaging to 13,900 ‘restaurants’ in the US and thereafter to another 117 countries worldwide. But will it ‘change the way the world feels about eating McDonald’s food’?

Over the next two years, McDonald’s will roll out its new packaging to 13,900 ‘restaurants’ in the US and thereafter to another 117 countries worldwide. But will it ‘change the way the world feels about eating McDonald’s food’?

That, apparently, was what Birmingham-based design studio Boxer was asked to do when McDonald’s commissioned it for the mammoth project (Business Week has a great story detailing all the thinking behind the strategy and quotes from both the client and Boxer).

This graphic, also from Business Week, details the changes in McD’s packaging over the decades:

Not only are the packaging changes interesting from a stylistic point of view, but, perhaps more pertinent is the way in which they make visual the changing debate around fast foods and McDonald’s attempts to address its many critics.

First in terms of materials. From 1976 all the way until 1991, the burgers still came in brightly coloured foam boxes. As the environmentalist debate begins to kick in, McD’s switches to paper and board, the visual language becomes more restrained, less overtly ‘trashy’. Now, it says, all its bags, tray liners and cup carriers are made from 100 per cent recycled paper while packaging for hot foods is made from 72 per cent recycled paper.

The new packaging takes on another major area of criticism – the content of its food. So, for example, in the new design the box for a Big Mac is adorned with clean photographs of the fresh ingredients inside – a mound of ‘100% pure beef’ sits atop scales. There’s a real onion and a real lettuce. This is packaging as advertising in a very explicit form, campaigning heavily to convince the customer that this stuff is made from real things.

On its website, Boxer claims that “the new packaging engages in an honest conversation with consumers about the quality of McDonald’s food”. But how ‘honest’ is this conversation? As the brand’s many critics will no doubt point out, if we’re going to be ‘honest’ about what’s in the food, that pile of meat could, for example, be replaced by one of fat or salt, both heavily present in McDonald’s foods (one Big Mac contains 42% of your recommended daily intake of salt, for example).

Nevertheless, compared to the lurid cartons of yore, this is clearly a company that has shifted its communications in an attempt to address its critics and to be more transparent about what you might find inside – up to a point.

Another interesting change is in the language used. The new packs are another example of what we might term (albeit awkwardly) the ‘M&S-isation’ of copywriting on food packaging. Newell & Sorrell, as was, introduced salivating language to Marks & Spencer packaging in the 90s. Now McDonald’s talks about how “sear-sizzled 100% beef mingles with the sauce”. (I also have a pedantic quibble about the packaging. It asks ‘What makes your Big Mac so unique?’ It’s either unique or it isn’t, it can’t be ‘so unique’.)

But will all this change how you feel about eating the stuff? The issues with McDonald’s go much further and deeper than the quality of its beef or the paper used in its wrappers. Unlike packaging on the shelf in a supermarket, by the time a McDonald’s box has arrived in someone’s hands, they have already bought it. You would have to assume that whoever is holding the box has already set aside their concerns about the food. Isn’t it a bit redundant to start trying to convince them about the quality of the lettuce now?

  • Mc Donald’s packaging is ubiquitous so doesn’t matter that you have to buy the product before you see the packaging and get the message. We’ll all get to see the bags and boxes immediately, as they are carried/blown along the high street.

  • Patrick Burgoyne

    Good point – they instantly become walking, tumbling, trodden on ads for the brand.

  • Jay

    lovin it? …does it matter? the package doesnt sell the burger. the burger and the logo does. next.

  • Its all well and good telling us the facts like 100% Beef but we all know that is what they don’t tell us that is important like saturated fats etc these facts should be on the box, like in supermarkets on products and not on leaflets on the wall.
    I personally would like to see pictures on the sides of the box that look like what you get in the box!
    I think the redesign is better than the last (which wasnt hard) but it is what it is like you say you have already succumb to the Maccie D’s urge and decided you want that sloppy slab of meat and bread that you think is going be better than it is, then you walk away feeling empty inside (in more ways than one), but we all know moderation is what life is all about!

  • It’s not transparent in the slightest – meaningless copy dressed up to be more insightful than it is. Nice design but wasted on fast food packaging.

  • “campaigning heavily to convince the customer that this stuff is made from real things”

    HA HA HA

  • Ouch! Seen Jordans Cereals lately?!!

  • Andy

    I’m not suggesting McDonald’s have it tough cos frankly I’m not really that bothered if they do or don’t. However, it does seem that whenever anything related to the brand is discussed there is an urge to get embroiled in the same old political hoo hah that rolls on and on and on.

    On a creative tip, the redesign is – ahem – rubbish isn’t it? I suspect the design team may have spent too long brainstorming at Starbucks in the 90’s. Suckers.

  • …obviously they weren’t working with the inverted snob self satisfied designer in mind. For those of you that have never done work for a global brand it really is the art of the possible. Pragmatism rather than idealism. Never mind kids – there will be another Tom Hingston article along in a minute.

  • ‘Going that extra mile’ on the bag in the last photo… when I spot that same bag decaying in a hedge a mile from the nearest drive thru I may raise an ironic smile. However, the packaging doesn’t get seen before the purchase so serves no purpose other than surface dressing. What a waste of ink on paper! It makes no attempt to address any of the problems of McDonald’s litter: now that really would be worth reporting. This is a missed opportunity and begs the question where is the design imagination? Why not take the opportunity to get consumers to dispose of their litter appropriately through graphics on the packaging? I can’t applaud graphics that make no attempt at solving a problem, this is just prettying up an existing one.

  • i think its looks better then the last one. but i still don’t eat there. :-)

  • me

    Jay’s comments above have to be the most retarded I have heard…

    does this mean the whole discipling of packaging should just give up.. after all there is virtually zero importance to what they do?

    personally i think they look nice but hardly game changing. someone like mcDonalds should be taking leaps beyond a mere redesign. if they want people to reappraise their brand/product – they need to come up with something a little more ground breaking than a facelift.

  • ““the new packaging engages in an honest conversation with consumers about the quality of McDonald’s food”.”

    This kind of image comes on the back side of all cigarette packages in Brazil:

    I will love to see something like this on a burger´s package. :-)

  • Considering the client and the scale, the redesign is good. As soon as a design team work with a client as large as McDonald’s they are immediately shackled.
    What is the point in creating something visually groundbreaking, anyway, when the target market still pee themselves regularly?

    Who cares if they don’t discuss the ludicrous salt content on the box, apparently we all know better anyway, so just let the stupid people inject money into the company whilst we all sit at home eating a delicious M&S sandwich …

  • Most of the time, we will only see the packaging in a car park as litter. The majority of Maccy D’s customers do not need selling, and the rest, like myself, will be put off time and again by the poor quality food and service.

  • naturefreak

    This is another attempt by McDonalds to whitewash over decades of bad food, environmental damage and cheesy advertising. I agree with the blogger, about what is the point of putting so much effort into packaging that will be discarded in a matter of minutes. They should have looked into creating less packaging overall and simplifying the print. Surely all it needs at this stage is an “M”?

  • Jay

    than you dont understand me, me

    can you buy mc’danoalds burgers in the supermarket?
    no, dumbass, you order one at the counter at the mcdonalds.
    so you dont choose the burger you gonna eat by looking at the packaging,
    and make a decision. no, you look at the burger itself.

    the fact that the burger is packed in this box, is only because it has to be in ‘something’.
    the package doenst sell the burger, so what do i give a fuck what it looks like.

    so this is not about giving up the whole discipling of packaging.

  • The brighter of us know that if you eat burgers all the time you’ll turn into a fat sod, in moderation you’ll be okay.

    The trouble McDonalds has s that have to jump through hoops for the people that don’t know this, and probably don’t care anyway. After SuperSizeMe came out I thought I’d try one of those salads… It was the longest half an hour of my life.

    I know McDonalds is a guilty pleasure and can’t we just leave it like that.

  • sss

    This is the RADDEST thing Macca’s has done. And of course it’s in Japan. And the packaging is amazing…
    tell me they should be doing this more.


    The Quarter Pounder campaign is fucking great, I’d certainly go there a few times if they did this in London

  • I agree the Japanese packaging has a more honest and appropriate tone than the new ones. Although i take my hat off to Boxer. They have done a pretty good job with what seems to be a near impossible brief. McDonalds are never going to sway public opinion with it’s packaging, but it’s not a bad start.

  • Roget

    Here’s a novel idea….. Real food, made from real Ingredients, Served on a plate by sentient people.

    It cannot be that difficult can it?

    Harsh but fair I feel

  • I can only remember the packaging from the CLAMSHELL 1995-2003, that means I have never been to Mc’s or ate their food for about 6-7 yrs now. I feel good..way good.

    Nice modern design for the upcoming one though.

  • 1995 – 2003 was clearly much smarter than the two newer ones, what a waste of cash, they should have got a student to do it for a 15th of the price and a better job.

  • last note, the japanese one rocks!

  • Mike L

    I know its business with big numbers for some sad people in our industry, but who really cares about McDonalds, their rubbish food and their rubbish packaging, that just ends up poisoning our children and littering our streets. The rationale you waffle on about above is just a load of pretentious nonsense! The designs are actually awful… another reminder, if we need one these days, of how the word has failed as a society at the hands of Neanderthal global corporatisation. I appeal to less intelligent creatives (and CR) who think this debate is relevant to us…to get a life, and get a proper job!

  • David Brown

    Hmmmm, OK. The designs are pretty dull and this style of copywriting has become tedious and commonplace but what do you expect?
    McD is a middle of the road, high street, mass market brand. Of course it’s packaging isn’t going to set your design world on fire – This not that oh so trendy little café in Hoxton Square that sells Japanese beer at seven quid a bottle.

    It’s pretty clear that a great part of the brief for it must have been about reassurance that you’ve done the right thing, buying their product and that they are listening to the critics. To me it looks like a “What if Starbucks made burgers” exercise.

    I think it’s pretty unrealistic to think someone like McD would come up with something “RAD” outside of a few selected experiments in carefully chosen locations appealing to arty types and other “early adopters” to “see what happens”. The Japanese McD on Eddie’s link WOULD be the RADDEST thing if wasn’t for the fact that…

    A. It looks like shit.
    B. It looks like a poor rip-off of Uniqlo, who did it first YEARS AGO! And MUCH MUCH MUCH better.
    C. Either Eddie’s photo is crap or the designer and/or printer is colour blind.
    D. It looks like a Spar own brand burger from the seventies.
    The sad thing is, it will probably end up in “trend” blogs all over the world with designers cooing over it and rushing off to Tokyo to snap on their iPhones and upload it straight to Flickr.

  • David Brown

    Patrick, is it possible to programme links in people’s comments to open automatically in another window? The blog was really slow to load earlier today and when I clicked on the Flickr link in Eddie Wong’s comment, it took ages to get back here.

  • Rob Bowdery

    Dull design: I think I’d have preferred something more lurid to appeal to the type of client who buys from the clown. Talking of clowns, who was the copywriter who came up with “What makes your Big Mac so unique?” or was it perhaps an illiterate graphic designer who was unaware that “unique” is an absolute term. It’s either unique or it aint. And the irony is that the ubiquitous McDonalds burger is meant to be the bloody same all over the world. Another copy tip, try changing “I’m lovin’ it” to “I’m buying it” for the poor saps who fork out for these foodstuffs.

  • Malcolm Gillespie

    Doesn’t really matter to me so long as it provides plenty of printing work and keeps people employed must be bloody marvellous

  • Patrick Burgoyne

    @Bob Callahan
    Bob, I just accidentally deleted your comment. Please post again.

  • ungulatorA2222

    JEEZ, they actually got paid for this ‘redesign’, doesn;t look like much effirt went into it, but i guess that’s the idea keep it similar

  • Deleted again! I can’t take the rejection, Patrick. My comment was something along the lines of Mark Glynne-Jones’ comment about the new design looking quite similar to the Jordans Cereals packaging –– same color schemes and fonts. And that McD missed a great opportunity to present cutting edge packaging design to the fast food market.

  • Patrick Burgoyne

    Thanks Bob. It’s nothing personal, honest!

  • GSD

    It’s a weird one this because really the responsibility is with McDonalds the company, rather than the design/branding company who produce the packaging. They are merely answering a brief. Quite obviously, we’re never going to see fast food packaging produced by an avante-garde socially, politically charged designer saying something along the lines of ‘Love living life on the edge? Then eat this and take a REAL risk with your life/health!’ etc. etc.

    Because it doesn’t sell the food!

    McDonalds et all are all foul companies by the way, the worst probably being KFC:

  • Ronald McDonald


  • Adam

    To me it already look dated and surly using photographs of ‘real’ food on the outside to convince us that the food on the inside is all natural is overused and transparent – we don’t but it! (literally and metaphorically).

  • the packaging is ridiculously over designed for what it is. i can’t say i like the company very much but they are so iconic they could get away with a simple ‘m’ logo on a brown paper bag. but then simplicity and clarity of message isn’t really something that goes hand in hand with the disposable, fast food culture is it?

  • Rachel

    Nice packaging will never make me buy McDonalds food – you only see it once the product has been put into your hand from the person on the other sound of the counter. I see it more often being dropped out of badly modified small cars with noisy exhaust pipes.

    Burger and chips is unlikely to be a healthy option and with so much emphasis on the obesity problems facing our country coupled with the bad press the company has received of late I think McDonalds is going to lose out, even with the most beautiful packaging imaginable.

  • Izibulo

    All very well that the packaging is mad of high percentages of ‘recycled’ paper/materials… now they just have to omit the c**p out of the food product – less ‘recycling’ there neded

  • The packaging follows the new trend in marketing: Authenticity. The idea that costumers are looking for real products not copies. Let’s take Starbucks for example that sells more than only coffee, but an all range of sensations and experiences.
    In the McD Pack the Authenticity concept is visualized with the slogan “the only one” (real-one) and with the use of an old fashionstyle typography that should give an impression of tradition.

    Have a look the the book written by James H. Gilmore and Joseph Pine:

  • veer

    can u guys help me please !!

    can i know WHY is the packaging for the fries design like this with the two holes below??

    why do the mcdonald staff put fries in the packet and put it into a slanting way before serve to customer?

    who is the wan created the packaging???

    please help me if u know the answer !!