NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's Corp. is replacing the head of its U.S. operations after the world's biggest hamburger chain reported its first monthly sales decline in nearly a decade.
The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said its global chief restaurant officer, Jeff Stratton, will succeed Jan Fields as president of McDonald's USA effective Dec. 1.
Heidi Barker, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said CEO Don Thompson and Fields are long-time friends and that they discussed the need for a change in leadership. Barker says a number of business factors played a role in the decision, but said recent sales figures were not among them.
"When you look at the size and scope of McDonald's, there are numerous factors go into a decision like this," Barker said. "It's difficult to isolate factors."
Fields, 57, was named president of McDonald's USA in 2010 and started with the company as a crew member more than 35 years ago.
After years of outperforming its rivals, McDonald's has struggled recently amid intensifying competition at home and a persistently weak economy abroad. In October, the company reported its first monthly sales decline since 2003.
In a recent conference call with analysts, Thompson said the fast-food company would return its focus on its Dollar Menu after efforts to shift customers to a slightly more expensive "Extra Value Menu" fell flat.
That emphasis on value is in contrast to competitors such as Wendy's and Burger King, which have been introducing more premium offerings. Taco Bell, known for its affordable Mexican-style fare, also introduced its higher-end Cantina Bell bowls earlier this year. The moves are widely seen as a reaction to the growing popularity of chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread Co., which offer better quality food for slightly higher prices.
McDonald's says Fields was behind major menu innovations, including the expansion of the specialty drinks menu. The beverages include fruit-flavored "chillers" and gourmet coffees. The lineup is popular and was credited for helping sales in the past year.
As global chief restaurant officer, Stratton oversees operations, training and innovation. He also started as a crew member more than 40 years ago in Detroit, and previously served as chief restaurant officer.
Barker said the transition to president of McDonald's USA, which is a promotion, should be seamless.
"A change in management doesn't signal a change in strategy," the spokeswoman said.
McDonald's has more than 34,000 locations around the world, with about 14,000 in the U.S.
In morning trading, McDonald's shares slipped 70 cents, to $83.92. The stock has traded between $84.05 and $102.22 in the past 52 weeks, and is down about 16 percent since the start of the year.
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