The real reason McDonald's McRib keeps disappearing from the menu

Guess what, everybody, McDonald's is bringing back your favorite boneless slab of ribs pork sandwich — the McRib! That's right, McDonald's has just announced that as early as October 7, the McRib will be returning to its menus across the country.

If perhaps you're feeling a little cautious with your excitement for the McRib this year, it's probably because the McRib is just doing what the McRib does. By that, we mean it comes back into your life, gets you all excited that it's returned, and then poof — it's gone. Thanks, McRib. So why exactly does McDonald's keep pulling this yo-yo trick with the McRib year after year?

Why isn't the McRib always on the McDonald's menu?

The McRib last made an appearance on the McDonald's menu in November of 2018 and there's really no telling how long it will hang around this time. One thing's for sure though — it won't be forever. This might seem odd since it's always the belle of the ball at McDonald's whenever it does come back and fans are obviously frustrated when it goes away. At one time there was even a Facebook group called "Bring back the McRib, Please" (via The Atlantic). What you might not notice about those McRib promotions though, is that they usually end with an ominous phrase: "while supplies last."

You see, the McRib is made with certain pork trimmings and there's not necessarily always enough of those cuts of meat to supply an indefinite amount of McRib sandwiches. At least that's what meat scientist Roger Mandigo told the Lincoln Star Journal. "If you suddenly start to buy a large amount of that material the price starts to rise," Mandigo said. 

When the price of those tender pork trimmings starts to creep up, McDonald's simply pulls the McRib from the menu and it's gone once again. 

The disappearing act of the McDonald's McRib is all about business strategy

Obviously, people are only going to pay so much for a McDonald's pork sandwich, but it's more than the cost of ingredients that results in the McRib fading away year after year. It's also a clever marketing trick by McDonald's to create a sense of urgency in customers when it does come back. 

If McRibs were available 365 days a year, people might not be as energized about buying it. There certainly wouldn't be any need for headlines proclaiming its return if it had never gone away. "Bringing it back every so often adds to the excitement," McDonald's marketing director, Marta Fearon, told the Associated Press (via Inc.) 

According to Business Insider, by bringing the McRib back for a limited time, McDonald's gets a nice sales spike in their financial fourth quarter. This combination of cost control and marketing blends perfectly together to make the McRib a successful product. Which, of course, is key with anything on the McDonald's menu — but that wasn't always the case with the McRib. Believe it or not, there was once a time when the McRib didn't get much hype at all. 

Not that many people like the McRib

When the McRib made its debut way back in 1981, not that many customers were drawn to its "tangy temptation." It hung on for a few years, but the Golden Arches wasn't selling enough of the sandwiches and pulled it from the menu in 1985 due to poor sales (via Fox Business). McDonald's tried bringing the McRib back again in 1989, but even then they were doubtful of how long it would last. "It's premature to decide if McRib will stay on the menu or come back as a specialty item," the fast-food chain's then-president of marketing, David Green, told The New York Times.

McDonald's tried hyping people up for the McRib again in the early 1990s as part of a promotion for The Flintstone's movie, but again, it was more of just a cult favorite. 

The McRib likely has a problem attracting a very large audience for the key thing that makes the sandwich unique — its boneless rib slab shape. "It's a conglomeration of pork waste, as far as I can tell," one McRib critic told The Atlantic.  "I saw a dog turn his nose up at a piece of one. That's all I need to know." 

As Fortune points out, people who have never had one are often eager to try it to see what all the buzz is about. That doesn't necessarily mean though, that the McRib will convert enough skeptics into believers to warrant keeping it on the menu for good.