Aiming for more transparency, McDonald’s Corp. launched a campaign this week to address challenging questions about the quality of the food served at its global chain.
In a series of videos available on the company’s website and through social media channels, McDonald’s officials offer direct explanations — albeit brief — about the ingredients the chain uses.
The chain explains what’s in its iconic Chicken Nuggets (white meat chicken from the tenderloin, breast and rib) and whether burger buns are made from the same chemicals used to make yoga mats (yes, but not in artisan buns).
Lisa McComb, director of media relations for McDonald’s U.S., said the new effort is designed to be a conversation. “We know some customers have questions about our food,” she said. “And while we have always provided nutritional information about our menu for more than 35 years through a variety of methods, this new effort is about inviting people to have a two-way conversation with us and ask us their questions directly.”
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company brought in Grant Imahara, host of the TV series “Mythbusters,” to debunk rumors about McDonald’s use of additives and explain why beef patties are flash frozen.
Imahara is shown visiting a Cargill meat plant in Fresno, Calif., that makes McDonald’s burger patties, energetically asking questions such as, “Are there lips and eyeballs in there?” (The response: "No.")
At the end of one video, Imahara goes to a McDonald’s to eat a Big Mac — which he says is his first in 15 years — and pronounces it “good, really good.” That is a key moment, according to Konrad Gessler, project manager in charge of the restaurant practice team for New England Consulting Group, based in Norwalk, Conn.
“The overarching message is that, look, it’s okay to return to McDonald’s,” said Gessler, noting the firm is not currently working with McDonald’s, though it has in the past. “It’s clear the myth is busted. We think people will be surprised by the quality they see.”
Beyond the videos, the website includes a deeper dive into detailed questions about specific products. When asked whether dyes are added to shakes or frappes, McDonald’s answered: “Yes. Our shakes and frappes contain food-safe coloring to enhance their overall appearance, like the green of our Shamrock Shake.”
Responding to questions about whether McDonald’s food will rot, a reference to widely publicized experiments in which burgers kept in a jar appeared unchanged after weeks, the company said its food does, in fact, rot. The burgers used in such experiments were likely dehydrated before any visible deterioration could occur, the company said.
When asked why its food is so cheap, McDonald’s said its because the chain can buy in bulk.
Gessler said the campaign taps into a growing recognition that brands need to be more authentic. He pointed to the success Domino’s had with a campaign in 2010 in which the chain boasted about reformulating its pizza crust. In the ads, the chain humorously cited criticism by consumers about the prior crust recipe “tasting like chalkboard.”
Outside the industry, a more recent ad campaign for Under Armour features Gisele Bundchen attacking a punching bag with both positive and negative Tweets floating around her — as if punching back at her critics.
Others, however, said McDonald’s response to critics could be risky.
Foodservice consultant Ray Coen of Ray Coen & Associates in Los Angeles, who has worked with a number of restaurant chains, but not McDonald’s, said, “The question is, are they going to call more attention to the problem or are they going to solve the problem? Most of the time, if you call more attention without having an improved solution, you’re in negative territory.”
Coen said it might be more effective if McDonald’s were making significant changes to its menu to address the evolving tastes of consumers, who are looking for better quality ingredients and more healthful options.
“It’s a superficial response to a very fundamental problem,” said Coen. “They should be saying, ‘we’re darn good and we’re becoming even better,’ not ‘you think we’re doing terrible things, but we’re not.’”
McComb of McDonald’s agreed that there’s risk with the approach, but, she said, “We think it’s worth it. We believe that once people see the great level of quality and care that goes into our food from our suppliers, to the preparation in the restaurant, it will dispel many of the myths and rumors out there.”
Watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, which has attempted to pressure McDonald’s to stop marketing to children, was unimpressed by McDonald’s attempt to reframe how consumer perceive its food.
Hanna Saltzman, national organizer for the group’s Value the Meal campaign targeting quick-service chains like McDonald’s, said the attempt at transparency “comes off as a little desperate.”
She added, “The corporation is putting on this veneer of healthfulness without substantively addressing the concerns. People know them as a junk food brand.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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