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July 23, 2013  Tue 8:14 AM CT

I'm struggling with this McDonald's disappointment. Perhaps I am just spoiled by its previous greatness. Or maybe I am just jaded, as I was with Coca-Cola, when I see this kind of blame game and get a sense that it's being caused by industry weakness and not by the company's execution.

First, just as with a can of Coke, you can't blame economic weakness for this softness in McDonald's, given how little a meal there costs. We used to think that McDonald's benefits from softness in the economy. Now we think that it is a loser in this environment?

Second, and more important, I keep thinking back to what Chipotle's chief financial officer told me on CNBC's "Mad Money" Friday. Jack Hartung said sales are picking up in part because of a continued recognition that, despite higher prices than the competition, people want food with integrity. In other words, they want to be protected from the food chain if they can be, because they regard it as corrupt and unhealthy.

TheStreet.com logoThink about it like this: Chipotle is to McDonald's as Whole Foods is to Safeway. One protects; the other defends.

Right now, there is a sense in this country and, I believe, in Europe that you are what you eat and drink. A striking revulsion is developing against non-natural, non-organic meat and against carbonated soda.

Now, McDonald's is currently pushing some new initiatives. If they catch on, of course, maybe the company can stem the tide. But this is the third straight earnings miss, and after that you have to wonder whether something structural is occurring, especially when companies that produce more expensive food--like Chipotle or, for that matter, like Panera--continue to excel.
Disclosures: Cramer's charitable trust has no positions in the securities mentioned.
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