You may have noticed that several fast food chains are offering fish sandwiches for a few weeks. That’s because it’s the Lenten season, and many religious don’t eat meat on Fridays as we head toward Easter. It turns out we have competition — and Catholics — to thank for the creation of the McDonald’s Filet-0-Fish sandwich, which was launched by an Ohio McDonald’s located in the middle of a community that was 87 percent Catholic. This story is a wonderful look at how competitive forces bring change and choices, and how these forces also weed out the bad ideas — Ray Kroc’s Hula Burger, for example. One of the fascinating details is that Kroc initially didn’t want fish in his stores because he didn’t want them “stunk up with the smell of fish.” The sandwich turned out to be a gold mine. And it’s all because Lou Groen was desperate for a way to compete and stay afloat.
Groen was working ungodly hours and had twins to feed at home—$75 was not cutting it. He noticed that a restaurant nearby owned by the Big Boy chain was doing something different—they had a fish sandwich. “My dad told me, ‘If I’m gonna survive, I’ve got to come up with a fish sandwich,’” says Paul. So Groen went to work creating a simple, battered, halibut-based prototype, with a slice of cheese between two buns.
He did his research, investigating what the Big Boys chain was doing right, trying out different cost-effective recipes. He brought the idea to corporate in 1961. “The Filet-O-Fish sandwich was groundbreaking. My father went through a lot to introduce that sandwich,” Paul says. “He made a number of trips to Chicago to present the idea to Ray Kroc.”
Now if we could just get more politicians and policymakers to understand that competition can also transform other sectors — education, for example. It should not be feared; it should be embraced.