Chicago, IL — Joe Erlinger, President of McDonald’s USA, firmly rebutted “poorly sourced reports” on Wednesday, arguing that claims of McDonald’s price hikes outpacing inflation are misleading. He stressed that these reports don’t accurately represent the fast-food giant’s broader pricing strategy.

In a letter published on the company’s corporate website, Erlinger addressed the viral claim that a Big Mac meal was priced at $18 in a single U.S. location, stating, “I can tell you that it frustrates and worries me, and many of our franchisees, when I hear about an $18 Big Mac meal being sold — even if it was at one location in the U.S. out of more than 13,700. More worrying, though, is when people believe that this is the rule and not the exception, or when folks start to suggest that the prices of a Big Mac have risen 100% since 2019.”

Erlinger laid out the numbers, noting that the average price of a Big Mac has risen to $5.29, up 21% from $4.39 in 2019. “McDonald’s menu prices remain well within the range of other quick-service restaurants,” he added.

The exec pinned the price hikes on inflationary pressures hitting all sectors, fast food included. He highlighted that McDonald’s franchisees, who operate over 95% of the chain’s U.S. locations, adjust menu prices to offset rising operational costs. This comes on the heels of a viral social media post from almost a year ago, where a Connecticut customer claimed a Big Mac combo meal cost $17.59. Erlinger emphasized that such outliers do not reflect the company’s standard pricing policies.

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In his letter, Erlinger also provided a broader context, mentioning the average prices of other popular menu items. The Quarter Pounder with cheese is now $5.39, up 20% from $4.49 in 2019. An Egg McMuffin costs $4.29 on average, up 23% from $3.49 in 2019, and a 10-piece McNuggets meal averages $9.19, marking a 28% increase from $7.19 five years ago.

Despite these increases, Erlinger reassured customers that franchise owners are making efforts to keep prices manageable. This assurance comes as some Americans start trimming their fast-food spending thanks to rising costs. A January poll by Revenue Management Solutions revealed that about a quarter of consumers making under $50,000 a year are pulling back from fast food due to prices.

To tackle this, McDonald’s is rolling out a limited-time $5 meal deal targeting budget watchers. Competing fast-food joints like Burger King and Wendy’s are also cooking up similar bargains to lure in cost-conscious eaters. Erlinger pointed out that over 90% of McDonald’s franchisees now dish out meal combos for $4 or less.

“I fully expect the prices at your local McDonald’s to be an area of conversation and focus in the coming months,” Erlinger concluded. “As it does, I hope you’ll see the programs we’re launching nationally and locally as meaningful to you.”

The company’s proactive approach seeks to tackle consumer worries head-on while keeping its competitive spot in the fast-food scene. This action underscores McDonald’s continuous dedication to offering value to customers despite economic ups and downs.