McDonald’s ice cream crisis has inspired memes, mockery and now, a federal lawsuit
This is the perennial lament of McDonald’s loyalists: Why are the ice cream machines always down?
For fans of the fast-food giant’s soft-serve cones, Sundays, and of course, McFlurries, the seemingly constant technical difficulties can feel personal. The situation has inspired crappy memes and social media joke, serious news inquiries and less-than-serious conspiracy theories. All the time, rival chains like Wendy’s Have reveled In a mess, and frustrated customers have vented their anger on the staff.
In 2018, two friends in California saw an opportunity and built an app they said would help restaurant owners fix glitches in machines without calling a technician. His company, Kitch, sold the program to hundreds of franchises. But in 2021, McDonald’s began sending out notices to franchisees that the technology could hurt workers, halting its growth when McDonald’s began sending out notices.
The company is now suing McDonald’s, accusing the chain of working with the Taylor Company — the maker of its ice cream machines — of trying to copy its technology while simultaneously defaming Keach’s.
‘We thought we were the solution’
Melissa Nelson and Jeremy O’Sullivan, who met in 2005 as freshmen at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., say that Kitch was born out of Frobot, a business they started in 2011 that developed automated soft- Serv used to sell frozen desserts from machines.
Frobot used Taylor Company machines, but they kept breaking down, Kitch co-founder and president Ms Nelson recalled last week. The only way to fix them was to call technicians authorized by Taylor, who often led the problem down to a power outage, if the company found a problem, she said.
Frustrated, Ms. Nelson and Mr. O’Sullivan came up with Kitch Solutions, an online platform that allowed customers to monitor and control soft-serve machines by retrieving data from McDonald’s machines and then displaying it on Kitch’s interface .
He began marketing the equipment to the franchise owners of McDonald’s and Burger King, who praised the product. In 2019, Kytch sold the technology to more than 400 McDonald’s franchise owners, Ms Nelson said.
“We thought we were the solution,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO, Mr. O’Sullivan.
Then, in November 2020, notices declaring their product unsafe went out, he said.
“If their goal was to destroy Kitch, they succeeded,” said Mr. O’Sullivan.
Tim Fitzgerald, chief executive of Middleby Corporation, the owner of the Taylor Company, denied that was the target.
“We are not in business to put other companies out of business,” he said. “The product was not tested or verified in conjunction with Taylor Machine’s food safety protocols.”
This month, the founders of Kytch filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s in US District Court in Delaware, seeking $900 million in damages. Ms. Nelson and Mr. O’Sullivan say the numbers reflect the loss and what their company would be worth if McDonald’s didn’t scare current and potential customers with dangerous notices.
McDonald’s said Kitch’s claims were “baseless”.
“McDonald’s owes it to our customers, crew and franchisees for maintaining our rigorous safety standards and for working with fully vetted suppliers in that pursuit,” the company said in a statement this week.
Kich said that at the same time that McDonald’s was trying to undermine the product, Chen and Taylor were holding regular meetings with franchise owners who had bought out Kich’s program to learn how to copy the technology, according to the lawsuit. . Kich sued Taylor separately in Alameda County Superior Court in California.
Last week, a judge in that court denied Kitch’s request for an injunction against Taylor, who is developing a similar product. The judge, Michael Markman, said there was no evidence that Taylor’s system “was created with or contained any Kytch trade secrets.”
The case is still pending.
“We are still very early in the case, and we look forward to seeing what the evidence reveals,” said Daniel Watkins, attorney for Ms Nelson and Mr O’Sullivan.
The ice cream at McDonald’s comes from the Taylor Model C602, a combination shake and soft-serve freezer with a touch panel that lets employees quickly complete dessert orders.
Other Taylor models are used at Wendy’s and Burger King locations and at ice cream shops across the country. But when the machines at McDonald’s stop working, they cause particularly strong emotions among frustrated customers.
There’s even an online map and app, McBroken.com, that claims to let McDonald’s customers see in real time which places across the country have broken ice cream machines. (As of Thursday morning, ice cream machines were broken in more than 22 percent of McDonald’s locations in New York City.)
According to Kitch’s lawsuit, when the machines are shut down, they “deliver confusing messages that leave McDonald’s franchisees frustrated and unable to operate the machine”.
Owners and employees have no choice but to call in technicians authorized by Taylor to fix the problem, typically at a cost of hundreds of dollars per visit, Mr. O’Sullivan said.
Middleby spokeswoman Darcy Bretz says the machines come with operating manuals that explain error codes.
Mr Fitzgerald says machines have to be turned off all day for cleaning and routine maintenance.
“It can give the impression that the machine is broken,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said Taylor ice cream machines can run 24 hours a day and have an average life span of 16 years. He said it is much less expensive to serve them than to replace them.
McDonald’s said in a statement, who has made fun of the reputation of his machinessaid the company has begun offering new training resources for crew members and is performing routine maintenance on its machines.
However, the complaints have prompted questions to the Federal Trade Commission, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported in September that the agency sent McDonald’s a letter about the machines. Mr Fitzgerald said the commission had not reached Middleby.
Commission spokeswoman Betsy Lordon declined to comment on the machines issues.
“We don’t comment until we’re issuing a complaint,” she said.
David Kaas, a former economist on the commission, and Robert H. A clinical professor at the Smith School of Business, says the agency is involved when there are multiple complaints about both a product and a “substance sufficient” for complaints. ,
Professor Kaas said he was surprised that McDonald’s had gone so long without finding a permanent solution for its ice cream machines.
“Customers, if they are repeatedly disappointed, they will go elsewhere,” he said.
Want McFlurry? Call your state legislator.
In New York State, a bill known as the “Digital Fair Repair Act” would require manufacturers to make their diagnostic and repair information available to independent repair technicians and customers.
Since 2021, 25 states have introduced similar bills, but the legislation has gained more traction in New York, said state Senator Kevin Thomas, a major sponsor of the bill, whose district includes parts of Nassau County.
The law was passed by the state Senate last year, he said, making it the first of its kind to vacate a legislative chamber. It was stalled in the Assembly, Mr Thomas said.
He said the bill was vigorously lobbied by manufacturers, but he expected consumer demands to outweigh that resistance.
“For faster McFlurry,” said Mr. Thomas, “you must pass this bill.”
Kirsten Noyce Contributed to research.
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