The History and Evolution of McDonalds Packaging

December 08, 2020

McDonald’s boxes, wraps, cups and their graphics have many jobs to do, starting with the basics – keep items hot and fresh, communicate what’s inside and identify where it’s from. But over the years, we’ve managed to innovate with our packaging design nearly as much as we’ve innovated our food and restaurant experience. As McDonald’s rolls out new food and beverage packaging designs around the world, we take a look back at some of the milestones: 

Original McDonald’s Packaging: Iconic Simplicity

The Golden Arches – today, one of the world’s most recognizable design symbols – appeared at the very start of McDonald’s history, in the McDonald brothers’ first franchised restaurant that opened in Phoenix, Ariz, in 1953. The Arches developed from structural bookends on McDonald’s restaurants, oversized arcs big enough to see from a distance and attract roadside travelers. Packaging design from 1961 shows the Arches crossing with a slash across to represent the buildings. Only later were the two parabolas connected to form the now famous McDonald's Golden Arches logo, encountered by millions of people every day.

Red Fry Box: Smart Packaging Design

In 1970, McDonald’s designers solved two questions with one great package. In a restaurant kitchen focused on speed and efficiency, how do you fill a paper bag with more fries more quickly? And, for the customer, how do you keep the fries from falling out? Enter the award-winning McDonald's red fry box, developed together with our packaging supplier. As McDonald’s started to offer larger orders of fries, crew could easily and quickly funnel fries into the package, and guests could stand it up on end. We’ve barely changed the box over the years – with some exceptions, including to celebrate the 2014 World Cup, we engaged 12 artists to design soccer-inspired versions.

Packaging Material Evolution: Environmental Friendly Materials

In 1990 we started to collaborate with environmental organizations – an industry first – as we worked to reduce packaging waste and shift away from materials like foam. The first initiative eliminated more than 300 million pounds of packaging, recycled 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and reduced waste by 30 percent in the decade following the partnership. Today we’re testing innovative sustainable packaging solutions like reusable to-go cups, driving circular solutions and on our way to the goal of sourcing 100% of our guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.

Cultural Touchstones: Short Lived but Long Remembered

In the case of a few menu items, no longer on the menu admittedly, the food hinged on the packaging. Ask any fan of the 1980s about the McD.L.T. and they’re likely to quip “The hot side stays hot and the cold side stays cold!” There was no catchy slogan for McSalad Shaker cups but the idea was to add salad dressing to the cup and…well, you get the rest. Nostalgia’s memory is even as long as the Deep Sea Dory fish nuggets and sauce boat from the early 1960's.

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