Unfolding the crinkling takeout bag, feeling the heat of your fries through the cardboard as you reach in and grab it…the packaging is part of the McDonald’s experience. As a global giant, the brand has undergone many changes to their designs, including these ten packages you’ll never see again.
10. Speedee Burger Wrappers
Bags and packaging featuring the original McDonald’s mascot, Speedee, had the character holding little plaques that said phrases like, “I’m Speedee,” or “I’m here”. The mascot had a hamburger for a head and a chef’s hat perched atop it. He wore a chef’s uniform and was often depicted rushing, sometimes with moving legs on a neon sign. He grinned from the red, blue and white burger wrappers with a confident wink. He was the mascot and logo for McDonald’s from 1955 until 1961, when the restaurant’s logo was switched to depict the golden arches. His name comes from the “Speedee Service System,” the name given to the system that McDonald’s implemented, using many unskilled workers who each did one particular step in the food-making process. Most fast food restaurants today implement a similar system, to ensure that food arrives rapidly and is consistent with other locations. Speedee often appeared, welcoming customers into the chain, displayed on the front of the restaurant or on a sign out front in the parking lot. The wrappers on McDonald’s burgers showed Speedee hurrying along, legs in motion, holding his “I’m Speedee” sign, with the words, “Thank You” written beneath his feet. Cute and vintage, Speedee was a far cry from the mascot that eventually took over in clown makeup and giant shoes, Ronald McDonald. Rather than writing the name of the food item on the wrapper, these packages were color-coded to mark different types of sandwiches, in the efficient spirit of Speedee himself.
9. 1960s Arches Design
In 1953, the golden arches of McDonald’s were born. Today, they are considered one of the most widely-known and recognizable brand logos. The arches first appeared on a restaurant in Phoenix, as giant, physical arches attached to the building. They made their way to the packaging when the owners decided they needed a new logo in the early 1960s. The original golden arches logo featured the arches overlapping each other, with an extra line drawn through the middle of the pair. This resembled the early locations that were built with physical arches on either side, with the line through the middle representing the roof of the restaurant. This design is simple and clean, with a neat circle drawn around the outside and the word, “McDonald’s” appearing underneath the arches. This packaging marks the beginning of an incredibly iconic symbol and the implementation of an idea from Richard McDonald, who had no background in design or art, but thought that the golden arches would be a great way to get attention and stand out to potential customers. The symbol we think of when we hear “McDonald’s” today started with this logo, which was eventually changed to a less busy depiction. Today’s arches are joined in the middle and clearly represent an “M”. As the brand moved on from the physical structure of golden arches on the restaurants from the early days, the arches survived as a beacon for hungry diners jonesing for some cheeseburgers and fries.
8. Chocolaty Chip Cookies Box
These days, McDonald’s diners in search of a chocolate chip cookie will receive a deliciously fresh-tasting, chewy, soft-baked cookie. They may opt to grab just one or two, as nowadays they are sold in a regular bakery size to satisfy coffee-drinkers and dessert-lovers alike. The nostalgic Chocolaty Chip cookie boxes are from a time before the introduction of McCafe, with all of its pastries and treats to choose from. The Chocolaty Chip Cookies were contemporary with the lemony vanilla, character-shaped McDonaldland cookies that accompanied happy meals and were offered in separate boxes. The character cookies were a riff on animal crackers, with cookies shaped like McDonald’s heroes Hamburglar, Grimace, Ronald and more. The alternative chocolate chip option were mini biscuits with much more crunch than the McCafe chocolate chip cookies of today. Diners could order the cookies to have with their meal, or take them on the go to enjoy later. The cookies came in a simple box, with realistic illustrations of chocolate chip cookies cascading down the front. The boxes were cardboard and easy to pick up to stock in your kitchen. For adults who wanted to enjoy some cookies at McD’s, these offered a less child-oriented option. It was in contrast to the packaging on the McDonaldland cookies, which featured lovely pathways reminiscent of the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz, with Ronald McDonald and friends walking along the paths and shrubs, trees and white picket fences in the background. These little cookies and their boxes have now become a crunchy, sweet memory.
7. Value Packs
These were easy-to-hold, one-container-fits-all solutions to customers who purchased full meals and wanted to nosh on them in the car or outside during the 1980s. The trays were marketed to customers on the go, with ads featuring workers, beach-goers and anyone looking to dine wherever they were with ease, no spills and a clean lap. The cardboard trays held a large drink, a sandwich or nuggets and extra large fries. The Big Mac value pack and Chicken McNuggets value pack were both heavily marketed and popular. These were suggested as a summer solution to keeping up with baseball games, rollerblading trips and days at the park. The trays resemble those found today at sports arenas and movie theatres, helping customers to enjoy the show without the hassle of finding somewhere to put all of their snacks and drinks. It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to bring these awesome things back, as sometimes a to-go bag is perfect, but the Value Pack trays really do enable customers to whiz along on roller-skates while munching on fries, which is something a lot of people want the freedom to do – just in case.
6. Shanghai McNuggets with Chopsticks
In the mid-1980s, McDonald’s offered Shanghai Chicken McNuggets on their menu, for a limited time. Marketed as a “fun new way to enjoy Chicken McNuggets,” the nuggets came in a box with a red and gold design, representing the lucky colors popular during Chinese New Year. The chicken nuggets came with pan-Asian-inspired sauces, including Cantonese sweet and sour, teriyaki and a hot mustard. The meal also came with a set of wooden chopsticks in a paper sleeve, as well as a fortune cookie (presented as a McFortune Cookie). The ads showed McDonald’s customers struggling to use the chopsticks, attempting different methods of getting the chicken morsels into their mouths. A child is depicted using one of the chopsticks to hold 3 nuggets, kebab-style. Another customer sneakily pops a piece of food into his mouth with his fingers, then holds the chopsticks up as if he did it with them. The box of nuggets read, “Cooked in 100% Vegetable Shortening,” and the chopstick sleeves were labelled, “Chicken McNuggets Shanghai”. The meal was presented as an exciting, unintimidating way for the inexperienced to explore using chopsticks. Actors in the commercials were ungraceful but good-natured about using them for the first time, dropping a chopstick or a nugget and giggling. The chopsticks are a nostalgic part of the history of McDonald’s, with people who used them in the 80s remembering the combo of teriyaki sauce and crispy nuggets fondly.
5. Polystyrene Packages
The most controversial McDonald’s packaging of all time, polystyrene foam (also often referred to as styrofoam) became a hot-button topic in the late 80s. As a product that at the time was made using CFCs, the material was identified as harmful to the ozone layer. Also, as a non-biodegradable product, polystyrene added an additional threat to mother earth. The company announced a switch to paper and cardboard in 1990. The polystyrene foam coffee cups and clamshell design burger boxes were part of an era when environmental activism caused serious change. The material was a great thermal insulator, to keep cheesy beef patties and hot cups of joe nice and toasty, as well as keeping soft drinks nice and cool. McDonald’s did continue to use polystyrene cups and trays in some areas, but fully phased them out in 2018. Ultimately, this was a positive thing to phase out and McDonald’s created a huge impact by changing their packaging to paper products – but it’s still fun to take a little trip down memory lane, with these nostalgic food carriers. The foam containers live on in product placements within old movies, like Time after Time and Mac and Me.
4. Double clam shell containers
One of the most memorable of the polystyrene foam containers, the double clam shell was an innovative design that focused on keeping foods at the perfect, designated temperature, to be combined in a harmonious blend of hot and cold elements. The box was specially designed for the McD.L.T., the McDonald’s lettuce and tomato burger. The two compartments hosted hot and cold halves of the burger, with the hot side holding the lower half of the bun and the beef patty, while the cold side held the top half of the bun and the lettuce, cheese and tomato. The packaging says, “The lettuce & Tomato on this side stay COOL!” on one compartment, with an illustration beneath it of a bun top, topped with a slice of tomato, piece of lettuce and American cheese slice. The other compartment reads, “The 1/4 lb. Beef Patty on this side stays HOT!” with a bun bottom and beef patty illustration, complete with cartoony steam lines showing just how satisfyingly warm the meat would be with this handy creation. When the use of polystyrene in McDonald’s packaging was addressed by environmentalists in the 1980s, the result was the extinction of both the double clam shell container (as it wasn’t replicable with paper products) and the product inside of it. The material’s ability to insulate and maintain temperatures was what made the design possible. The McD.L.T. was no more, laid to rest with its beloved double clam shell for eternity.
3. 90s Illustrated Packaging
The 90s brought with it McDonald’s packaging that was polystyrene-free and more biodegradable than its predecessor. The coated cardboard cups and brown paper bags (advertised proudly as, “made with recycled paper” and with a reminder noted to, “please put litter in its place”) featured colourful illustrations. The drawings of burgers, fries and icy cups of Coca-Cola wrapped around the containers. The word, “McDonald’s” appeared in a new design, reminiscent of the strokes of a paintbrush or quick swipes of a marker. This is one of the least neat designs, allowing for some sense of messiness. The takeout bags featured yellow, sketched french fries, appearing to topple out of the opening at the top and down into the illustration of a fry bag, featuring the McDonald’s golden arches logo. The rough outlines and artsy coloring resembled pop art or something created by a child, appealing to customers both young and old. All of the drawings were in the trademark red and yellow colors of McDonald’s – even the burger patty, which is shown with a red hue. The illustrated look was implemented in the early 90s and was a nice change from the simpler, text-based designs that had previously appeared on packaging, with clean, careful patterns and print using mainly browns and yellows.
2. Pizza Boxes
Pizza was a McDonald’s menu item during the late 1980s and 1990s, an attempt to compete with the wild popularity of the dish at the time. It was a method to get families to eat dinner at the restaurant, dining in for a large pizza as opposed to grabbing more lunch-oriented items like burgers to go. The item didn’t last, and is no longer offered by the chain. There were a few lone wolf locations that were still serving it as recent as the late 2010s, but it isn’t something that lasted. The locations were forced to stop selling McDonald’s pizza in 2017. The pizza boxes were large for small drive-thru windows and the wait time for a freshly baked pie was about 11 minutes. These factors threatened the trademark efficiency and convenience that McDonald’s is so well-known for, resulting in the company deciding to call it quits on serving ‘za on the menu. Pizza boxes featured checkered green and white borders with a “Fresh-Made and Oven-Baked” claim inscribed on the side. The word “Pizza” is emblazoned on the top, in a red design resembling neon tubing on a diner or a vintage Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, this packaging has now become a memory for McDonald’s fans, as the product didn’t make sense with their efficient system and couldn’t compete with melted cheese giants like Pizza Hut.
1. Dino-Sized Fries
In 1993, Jurassic Park premiered in theatres to roaring reviews. It became a huge summer movie that year, with McDonald’s hopping on board right away. The brand began offering the option to “dino-size” meals, which meant that the fries and drink in the combo would be increased in size, to give customers more of each. The fries also came in a cardboard container with a many-toothed, open-mouthed, hungry dinosaur gaping at the opening of the package, peering out from behind lush greenery. The back of the box featured the doors to the Jurassic Park Visitor’s Centre, with a quote from Robert Muldoon, the fictional Jurassic Park warden. The meal also came with a plastic collector’s cup, featuring Jurassic Park artwork with different dinosaurs depicted – as this was a collector’s item, fans would return hoping to get a new cup each time. The introduction of “dino-sizing” paved the way for “super-sizing”, the famous McDonald’s meal option where customers can upsize their fries and drink. When the film was no longer in theatres, the chain decided to keep the option available, but without the dinosaur theme. Super-sizing changed many things for the McDonald’s brand, from creating pushback that critiqued the calorie count in their meals, to offering an indulgent option to diners who wanted to go all out and add a little extra to their meals. The enthusiasm around the movie gave meal upsizing a boost of encouragement, with fans and happy moviegoers looking to see and collect the unique packaging. It’s very interesting that the film, Super Size Me might never have existed without the film Jurassic Park.