After 47 years with McDonald’s, JM Owens decided it was finally time to take on a formal leadership role.
Owens—who joined the brand as an hourly team member in 1966, opened his first unit in 1984, and now owns eight locations across the Atlanta area—recently assumed the position of president of the Greater Atlanta McDonald’s Operators Association.
The co-op, which is made up of almost 50 owner-operators in the Atlanta area, pools the locations’ PR, marketing, and advertising resources to develop and push promotions and products to local consumers. Owens says the group’s budget for 2013 will reach almost $18 million.
“We vote up or down on promotions the company’s doing,” he says. “We try to all develop and influence our own local plans, because we have national advertising coming in, and national advertising will do six or seven major advertising promotions a year. And then we have an opportunity to do six or seven promotions locally.”
Owens says several of the products the group developed in 2012 were major successes that could potentially hit McDonald’s menus nationwide some time this year. These items includes Fish McBites and Mighty Wings—which are now being tested in the Chicago area—as well as a popular breakfast item, the Egg White Delight.
The item, made from real egg whites, contains 90 percent less cholesterol than a typical egg sandwich, and its English muffin carrier has 8 grams of whole grains.
Other limited-time “promotional food events” (PFEs) created and developed by the co-op in 2012 included the Steak Egg Burrito and Apple Cinnamon Walnut Oatmeal.
But in his new role, Owens is determined not to rest on the success of the past year. Of his many goals, he plans to place a greater focus on value, product innovation, nutrition, and digital marketing, he says.
Due to the still-struggling economy and tax code changes that may cut back on consumers’ discretionary spending this year, Owens says value is an issue that’s both top of mind and difficult to approach.
“One of the things that I think we struggle with is … how to appropriately balance value, because we always have to be consumer-led,” he says. “We continuously look for ways to stay ahead of consumer thinking and to be on the edge of consumer thinking so that we can appropriately address their needs, in some cases, before they figure out they have that need.”
Another challenge Owens hopes to face head-on is cracking the code of digital and social-media marketing, whether that involves advertising on devices and social sites or paying with smartphones.
“There’s a lot of energy out of there,” he says. “We continue to try to crack the code from a digital application, because we know that’s the way the future is going to move.”
The future is also going to focus increasingly on nutrition, Owens says, adding that the co-op will make the issue a priority in 2013.
“We’ve got to figure out ways, like the Egg White Delight, where we can deliver superior taste and a superior nutritional profile,” he says, noting, however, that taste is still essential in healthy product innovations.
“Because no matter what nutritional profile we introduce, if the customers don’t like it, if it doesn’t taste great, if they’re not willing to buy it, if it’s not reasonably priced, it doesn’t matter about the nutritional value because it’s not going to be acceptable,” he says.
As for a taste of what’s to come, Owens says Atlanta-area guests can expect McWraps to hit the menu in the second quarter of 2013. The snack item comes with either crispy or grilled chicken in three different flavors. In addition, beverages like a Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie—which comes out this summer—and a French Vanilla Latte will broaden menu offerings.
The brand will also bring new items like a Spicy Chicken Sandwich to the Dollar Menu, as well as revitalize core products and fan favorites like the Quarter Pounder.
“We’re going to continue to be consumer-centric,” Owen says, “because we know who pays the bills.”
By Mary Avant