McDonald's seeks to highlight quality, nutrition

OAK BROOK, IL: Fast food giant McDonald's this week unveiled two new initiatives to increase transparency about what goes into a typical meal.

OAK BROOK, IL: Fast food giant McDonald's this week unveiled two new initiatives to increase transparency about what goes into a typical meal.

The company is becoming the first fast food chain to put nutrition information on food wrappers at the same time that it is launching an online behind-the-scenes kitchen tour.

Burson-Masteller is supporting outreach on the nutrition initiative while GolinHarris is working on the quality campaign.

Messages around the nutrition initiative stress how easy it is for consumers to get a snapshot of fat, calories, sodium, and other dietary information from a product's packaging.

The company is doing a "heavy media relations push" to promote the changes, according to Heather Oldani, McDonald's senior manager of US communications.

Rashada Jamison, account group supervisor at GolinHarris, noted that the quality initiative is designed to dispel myths about whether McDonald's uses "real" ingredients.

"Over time, McDonald's has become aware of some of the misconceptions," she said. "McDonald's serves fresh, wholesome food, the same food you can buy at your local grocery store."

"We wanted to give [customers a chance] to see how some of their favorite items are made," Oldani said.

Critics, however, have questioned whether the initiative goes far enough.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest stressed in a statement and interviews that McDonald's should have put nutrition data on the menu.

At the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, associate nutrition director Tim Radak noted that the move was little more than an attempt to gain publicity, particularly because it excluded beverages.

"We're in a crisis here," he said. "Industry has had plenty of time [to make real changes] and frankly ... they've dragged their feet."

As part of its outreach, McDonald's has stressed that it worked with nutrition experts in academia and government from around the world.

Bill Layden, principal of the food and nutrition consulting firm LaydenWorks, noted that the move will strengthen the chain's positioning, but solving the obesity crisis will require more than communicating more openly with customers.

"I give McDonald's a lot of credit for a bold and decisive action," he said. "Ultimately [changing dietary habits] will require true education."

Olympic gold medallist Vonetta Flowers serves as tour-guide on the "farm to table" interactive web program, which walks viewers through the production process for items such as French fries, Egg McMuffins, and cheeseburgers.

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