The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., cited bad winter weather for a 1.4 percent decline at established U.S. locations. But it also conceded that "challenging industry dynamics" played a role. Globally, the company said sales declined 0.3 percent at locations open at least 13 months. It warned that its muted performance so far this year could hurt first-quarter profit margins.
After years of outperforming its rivals, McDonald's Corp. has been fighting to hold onto customers and boost sales amid intensifying competition from chains like Chipotle and newer players like Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The company is looking at improving the image of its food and better matching its menu to the way people are eating.
In Southern California, for instance, it's testing a "build-your-own-burger" concept that dovetails with the growing trend of customization in the fast-food industry.
To that same end, McDonald's also in the process of rolling out new prep tables at its more than 14,000 U.S. locations. The tables can hold more ingredients, toppings and sauces, a sign that the chain plans to give customers greater variety in the type of burgers they can order.
"A long time ago, mass appeal had to be mass appeal," Jeff Stratton, the president of McDonald's USA said in an interview with The Associated Press last month. "That's not necessarily the case anymore today."
For February, McDonald's said sales declined 2.6 percent in region encompassing the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The company cited weakness in Japan and Australia, as well as a shift in the timing of the Chinese New Year.
Europe was a relative bright spot, with sales up 0.6 percent on a strong performance in the U.K. and growth in France.
McDonald's has more than 35,000 locations in more than 100 countries.
Its stock shed 31 cents to $95.19 in morning trading.