The Real Reason McDonald's Filet-O-Fish Nuggets Failed

The year 2013 was strange for pretty much everyone. Lance Armstrong admitted to using steroids, and "selfie" was added into the dictionary (via ABC News). It was also the year McDonald's got into some fishy territory, for lack of a better phrase. In the midst of some flat economic performance, the iconic fast food chain released a new seafood snack: Fish McBites (via CBS News).

Deep-fried, bite-sized, nuggets of fish? A little tartar sauce? Why not? Who doesn't want to throw back a few chunks of Alaskan Pollock every now and then? Apparently, most people don't have an urge to do that.

The doomed McBites were actually discontinued in 2013 — the same year they were born, according to Cosmopolitan. Actually, McDonald's cancelled quite a few items that year. Along with the Fish McBites, the company discontinued cherry pie, chicken tenders, and a pretty bland apple-and-walnut salad.  But we can't blame McDonald's for trying: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich — arguably the parent of the Fish McBites — has enjoyed decades of popularity. So why not capitalize on that maritime momentum?

Where it all began

The Filet-O-Fish sandwich hit the market in the 1960s, thanks to Lou Groen, who owned a McDonald's franchise in Ohio. Groen conceived the sandwich to draw in the area's large Catholic population, who tended to avoid meat during Lent (via Smithsonian Magazine). Today, the fried filet of pollock, topped with a half-slice of American cheese, and a creamy scoop of tartar sauce, still sells well around the country. The Filet-o-Fish has even treaded water all the way to Japan, where it's served with a snappy wasabi mayonnaise (via Eating With Kirby).

So, was it so wrong to introduce another fish option? McDonald's certainly tried. It added the Fish McBites into Happy Meal options (via USA Today). It offered the McBites in three different carton sizes, including one that "fits in your cup holder in the car," according to Brian Irwin, the marketing director for McDonald's USA (via CBS News). The meal was even dished out during the 2013 Lent season, to target Catholic populations, just like Lou Groen had decades ago.

But for whatever reason, the McBites didn't thrive the way the Filet-O-Fish did. Maybe the Filet-O-Fish doesn't need a counterpart. Maybe taking away the Filet-O-Fish's soft, comforting steamed bun to create Fish McBites was a bad move. We can only speculate. In the end, despite petitions still floating around to bring back McBites, the mysterious McDonald's menu item hasn't reappeared in the United States.