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McDonald's might not be the king of fast food for much longer.

McDonald's recently had decreased profits. New ideas and millennials just ruin everything, don't they?

McDonald's might not be the king of fast food for much longer.

It's hard to think of a name more synonymous with the word "empire" than McDonald's.

Even Emperor Palpatine from "Star Wars" would be jealous of their reach and global brand recognition. McDonald's happily sits on the throne as the undisputed king of fast food and one of the world's biggest and most successful businesses.



America's favorite road-trip bathroom. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

As of last year, McDonald's had 35,000 locations worldwide and operated in 119 countries. To put that in perspective, Burger King, McDonald's biggest competitor, has 13,000 locations in 79 countries. The sun truly never sets on the McDonald's empire.

However, like all empires, McDonald's reign will one day come to an end. In fact, although they still serve around 68 million customers a day, McDonald's is beginning to slip from their place at the top.

The Wall Street Journal shows how McDonald's sales are becoming more limp than a reheated french fry.

Since last July, McDonald's has seen some declines in sales.

That's right: As of last July, McDonald's showed 12 straight months of same-store decline. That represents the company's first full-year fall in 13 years, and although they've shown a small improvement this year (a 0.9% increase in domestic sales in the third quarter), you can be pretty sure they're not lovin' it.

So what exactly is going on here?

Well, on the business side, McDonald's has had a few mishaps. In Asia, where McDonald's earns nearly 25% of its revenues, health scares have had a harsh effect on the company's sales. Reports of contaminated beef and chicken in China caused sales to fall sharply over the summer. In Japan, sales were affected by a woman who reported finding a tooth in her french fries.

Yeah, you read that right. A tooth.

But McDonald's is also having trouble here in the homeland, and that's where the story gets interesting.

It's well known in the economics world that competition is what keeps American businesses strong. Having one or more rivals keeps a company creative, efficient, and forward-thinking. Every Coke needs its Pepsi, every Apple needs its Microsoft, and every Bernat Yarns needs its Lion Brand Yarn Company. (Just don't bring that frizzy Lion Brand twine around me.)

Anyway, I digress. For decades, McDonald's hasn't had much in the way of competition. Even other fast food restaurants have struggled to present a true threat to Mickey D's despite carving out massive markets of their own.

One reason for the cracks in the McDonald's empire may be their new competition.

The growth of middle-ground, casual fast-food dining options such as Chipotle, Five Guys, Smashburger, and Sweetgreen have offered customers their first real opportunity to walk away from McDonald's and never look back.

No one even knows what barbacoa is. Photo by Ben Popken/Flickr.

Plus, a new generation of eaters has started to demand different things from their fast-food experiences.

They're trading in their Big Macs for Smashburgers, and their Chicken Wraps for Chipotle burritos. They want customization, they want healthy and sustainable ingredients, and they want guacamole, dammit!

Research shows this: Millennials and younger eaters in America are asking for a lot more than special sauce. They want to eat fresh ingredients, and they want to customize. Just like McDonald's, a restaurant like Five Guys satisfies that primal American need for a burger and fries. But in contrast, Five Guys does it with ingredients that are apparently fresh and never frozen.

In fact, millennials think about food so differently that it's started to affect major processed food brands at the grocery store. Young shoppers are buying more fresh meat, produce, and dairy products. This has caused brands like General Mills, who produce mainly packaged food, to slip in sales as well.

McDonald's has tried to combat these changes in their own ways.

They've offered digital touch-screen kiosks in some stores that allow you to completely customize your burger.

I bet this thing will still forget your extra pickles. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

They're offering all-day breakfast. They just announced $1 mozzarella sticks.

And they've made a few company-wide changes to become healthier, like abandoning margarine for butter and no longer selling chicken and beef raised with growth hormones.

For the record, McDonald's has tried in the past to appear more healthy, and they've had...

Photo by Reg Natarajan/Flickr.

...let's just say...

Photo by theimpulsivebuy/Flickr.

..."varying levels of success."

Unfortunately, McDonald's image is still hopelessly tied to unhealthy food. Despite their efforts to change their reputation, people who care about fresh food probably don't think they'll find it between a pair of sesame seed buns.

So, the next time someone makes fun of you for ordering your vegan, gluten-free, chia-seed kale shake, just smile to yourself.

Your healthy choices really could crumble an empire.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

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Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

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Lighten up. Don't sweat the small stuff.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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