McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish Journey

February 26, 2016

The Filet-O-Fish has a storied past dating back to 1962 with Franchisee Lou Groen from Cincinnati, Ohio.  Groen’s restaurant was located in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood and he noticed a decrease in sales on Fridays.  With determination and a knack for thoroughness, Groen convinced McDonald’s to test a breaded whitefish sandwich to help satisfy customers who abstained from eating meat on Fridays in observance of Lent.  

Filet-O-Fish vs. The McDonald’s Hula Burger

At first, McDonald’s executives were not certain about adding fish to the menu, which required a more complicated cooking process.  As a matter of fact, McDonald’s Founder Ray Kroc had plans for what he called the Hula Burger ― a slice of grilled pineapple and cheese on a bun.  Kroc made a deal with Groen that they would sell the Hula Burger and the Filet-O-Fish on a Friday, and whichever sandwich sold the most would be added to the permanent menu. Kroc was so convinced that his Hula Burger would outsell the Filet-O-Fish that he made a side bet with his first grillman Fred Turner that the loser would buy the winner a new suit.  The final score? Hula Burger: 6, Filet-O-Fish: 350.

“Fred got a new suit and McDonald’s got the Filet-O-Fish,” said McDonald’s Company Historian Mike Bullington.

In 1965, the Filet-O-Fish was the first addition to McDonald’s original menu; it was the only non-hamburger option and sold for $0.29.  Last year, 25 percent of all Filet-O-Fish sandwiches were sold during the Lenten Season.

“The Filet-O-Fish has become a popular menu item enjoyed by millions of customers around the world,” added Bullington.  “Many franchisees have inspired McDonald’s menu items from the Filet-O-Fish and Big Mac to the Egg McMuffin and it’s been great to see the popularity grow for such iconic menu items.”

The Filet-O-Fish has grown in popularity and continues to evolve to meet consumers’ tastes and preferences.  It’s served in many other countries, including Russia, Japan and India.  You can get it with a spicy twist in Asia with wasabi and it’s offered in select U.S. restaurants with a specially-formulated OLD BAY tartar sauce. 

Sustainably Sourced Fish at McDonald’s

In 2001, McDonald’s began its journey toward sustainable fish, working to identify ways we could help protect long-term fish supplies and improve the health of surrounding marine ecosystems. Since then, McDonald’s global Sustainable Fisheries Program has grown to include purchasing standards, annual third-party assessments of all our fish suppliers and the purchase of whitefish from sustainable fisheries. Globally, 100% of the fisheries from which McDonald’s sources whitefish are from verified sustainable sources. McDonald’s USA uses solely Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified wild-caught Alaska Pollock for its Filet-O-Fish sandwich. In 2013, the company became the first and remains the only national restaurant chain in the U.S. to adopt the MSC blue ecolabel and builds on the company’s commitment to protect long-term fish supplies and improve the health of surrounding marine ecosystems.

“We applaud McDonald’s for their efforts to support sustainable fishing practices and help maintain the health of the world’s oceans,” said Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council.  “McDonald’s customers each day have an opportunity to recognize and reward sustainable fishing practices and support the seafood industry and communities that depend on fishing.”

Lou Groen passed away in May of 2011 and his legacy lives on with his family who own 14 McDonald’s restaurants.

“My father exemplified Ray Kroc’s philosophy that you can succeed if you put the customer first,” said Paul Groen, McDonald’s Franchisee.  "Barely doing $300 in daily sales back in 1962, my father needed that fish sandwich to survive and compete against other restaurants. He set in motion a framework of success that would benefit future generations. I can’t believe how the creation of the Filet-O-Fish has made such an impact on McDonald’s and the U.S. fishing industry.  My father would be amazed at how his hard work made such a positive difference.”

Catch more here on McDonald’s fish and sourcing practices.