Leader: Burger King’s stand risks loss of appetite

In last week’s issue of PRWeek we looked closely at the efforts by many British food manufacturers to take a responsible position on the healthy eating debate.

Some US companies have similarly seized the initiative in recent years. Coca-Cola has moved away from marketing to children and McDonald's has overhauled its menus to improve its brand perception.

All of which meant Burger King's decision to pull out of a joint initiative between the food industry and the Food Standards Agency came as even more of a shock when it was revealed last weekend.

The home of the Whopper appears to be snubbing industry efforts to reduce salt and fat content, and promoting the 'tastier' nature of its products as a result.

With a senior US executive confirming that it has no plans for further reductions in salt or fat, BK is flying in the face of the current UK consensus. This week the FSA is launching a major campaign urging the public to reduce their salt intake (Public Sector, p6).

Of course BK must take the strategy it feels best for its business, but the move may have seismic effects on the whole sector. How long can rival fast-food outlets afford to concentrate on 'healthy' messages when BK is taking this seductive tack?

Worryingly, BK's strategy in the UK increasingly seems to come from its Florida bosses. At the beginning of this year the firm lost its influential director of international comms Kai Boschmann, and it now emerges that the position of UK corporate communications manager, held by Dara Grogan, was also eliminated a few months ago.

Menu additions such as the calorific Enormous Omelette Sandwich and talk of 'share of stomach' may go down well in the US, but they grate here.

The improving reputation of McDonald's and Coke in the UK has been due to a 'think local, act local' marketing and PR strategy, a lesson BK appears not to have learned.

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