Christopher Adams

Christopher Adams is the Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Georgie Pie's back - but just one filling

Georgie Pie's Steak Mince 'N' Cheese pie is making a comeback. Photo/Supplied

Starting early next month, McDonald's will begin selling a single Georgie Pie product at 11 of its restaurants in Auckland and Waikato.

And New Zealand's biggest fast food operator isn't ruling out a return of standalone Georgie Pie stores.

The Steak Mince 'N' Cheese pie will have a $4.50 price tag - a far cry from the $1 pies remembered by nostalgic fans of the Georgie Pie chain, which was shut down by McDonald's in the late 1990s after the Golden Arches acquired the business from supermarket operator Progressive Enterprises.

McDonald's head of communications Simon Kenny said the introduction of the pies was a pilot project, but a return of Georgie Pie stores was possible.

"To set up a McDonald's restaurant costs typically between four and five million dollars and a standalone Georgie Pie restaurant would be a similar cost," Kenny said. "So to jump in and build a standalone restaurant in a trial wouldn't make sense, but you never say never."

McDonald's said the pies would be produced to the original recipe and the only significant alteration was the removal of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a controversial food additive.

The pies will be manufactured at the former Georgie Pie production facility in Manukau by Goodman Fielder, which purchased the plant from Progressive Enterprises.

Georgie Pie's former general manager, Brian Popham, had been brought in to consult on the product development process, McDonald's said.

The pies will initially be available at McDonald's stores in Auckland's Greenlane and Queen St.

Stores in Albany (Coliseum Drive), Kelston, St Lukes mall, Ti Rakau Drive and Mangere will begin selling the pies shortly after.

They will also be sold at the Golden Arches' restaurants in Hamilton's Frankton, 5 Cross Roads and The Base, plus the McDonald's store in Te Awamutu.

The company says the pie may become available nationwide and additional Georgie Pie flavours might be added.

'IT'S PART OF OUR POPULAR CULTURE"

Last year McDonald's managing director Patrick Wilson told the Herald that the company was putting more resources into evaluating what it could do with Georgie Pie, but was also wary of being accused of "bastardising" one of the country's best-loved brands.

Today he said he was excited to see how customers would react to tasting a Georgie Pie after so many years.

"We understand the passion Georgie Pie evokes for New Zealanders," Wilson said. "It's part of our popular culture and bringing it back is a big responsibility. We're committed to delivering to the original recipe and treating the Georgie Pie brand with the respect it deserves."

He said bringing back a product after 15 years was a complex process and the pilot rollout will help test the product operationally, while providing valuable business and consumer insights.

"Our research suggests that Kiwis still have a big appetite for their favourite pie brand ... From firsthand experience I can confirm the Steak Mince 'N' Cheese pie tastes as good as I remember. We believe Georgie Pie holds its own in 2013 and we're confident the pilot will be a success," Wilson said.

McDonald's said combo prices for the pie were yet to be confirmed.

Georgie Pie closed in 1999, but McDonald's still holds the trademark and intellectual property rights.

Die hard former customers have accused McDonald's of killing the Georgie Pie brand and a "Bring Back Georgie Pie" Facebook page has more than 54,000 members.

"I'D BE PREPARED TO PAY THAT"

One of those die-hard fans says he would happy to spend $4.50 to experience the nostalgic taste of Georgie Pie again, and says he'll drive from Tauranga to Hamilton to get it.

Shaun Belcher, 29, says he's thrilled to see the return of a single Georgie Pie product..

He has fond memories of visiting Tauranga's Georgie Pie restaurant in the 1990s.

"It was just a good, cheap place to go. The parents would always look to go there because it saved the family money.''

Another attraction was the freebies offered to Kid's Club members. "Every time you went through the drive-through they'd give us a free drink or soft serve.

"Their soft serve cones were bigger than McDonald's cones as well.''

His memory of the Georgie Pie playground was less fond. "When you look back now it was disgusting. It used to smell like cat pee, but we didn't seem to care.''

Mr Belcher said he was prepared to fork out $4.50 for the pies - a significant jump on the $1 price tag when Georgie Pie stores were last open.

"I'd be prepared to pay that, I don't have a problem with it.

"Mince and cheese wasn't my favourite flavour but I'll give it a go. I used to like the plain mince or steak ones.''

Mr Belcher faces a drive to Hamilton or Te Awamutu to relive the Georgie Pie experience, but he said he'd be prepared to make the trip.

However, $4.50 is too pricey, according to Wellington's Michael Stevenson, 35, who worked at Georgie Pie in Nelson as a 17-year-old.

"It seems a little bit on the expensive side for the small size, considering they used to be $1.

"Those types of pies these days are more your $2.50 to $3 mark.''

He'd buy one, but didn't think he'd make it a regular purchase. "It'll be just a once-off to try what it's like.''

While working at the store in the mid-1990s, he said staff were told the pies were a loss leader for the chain, and actually cost more than $1 to produce.

"People bought drinks and fries and things with a higher mark-up to compensate.''

Mr Stevenson said it was a fun place to work as a teen - but recalled that friends working nearby at McDonald's were paid about $2 an hour more.

* Watch a Georgie Pie advertisement from the 1980's here.

- NZ Herald

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