IN A newly released film, “The Founder”, the character of Ray Kroc promises that the startup he had taken over from the McDonald brothers “can be the new American church”. Portrayed by Michael Keaton as a turbo-charged egomaniac whose scruples diminish as his success increases, Kroc understood the power of branding, the advantages of franchising and the attraction of speed in food retailing. McDonald’s is now one of the country’s biggest food chains, with more than 14,200 outlets.

The domestic market is still its most important one, despite the firm’s massive global presence. When it reported this week that global sales had dropped by only 5% in the fourth quarter, the number beat expectations. News of a drop in sales in America of just 1.3% was received more gloomily. Hopes had risen because of the previous six consecutive quarters of domestic growth. At the end of 2015 and in early 2016 the chain had reaped the rewards of introducing the popular all-day breakfast in America. A year or so later, Egg McMuffins and sausage biscuits have shed some of their allure.

Still, Steve Easterbrook, the firm’s British boss, who took over…Continue reading