Exercising Your Consumer Power

May 11, 2012 in Foodland, Health by Mary Ireland

I hope that the consumer trends that Dr. Grandma discusses in her latest blog do indicate a change in dietary choices. I was curious and more than a little skeptical about a recent article on the "comeback" of McDonald's. It seems that at least some of the success is attributed to listening to customers (perhaps more accurately taking actions to appease it critics) in offering healthier choices -- as well as its $2 billion marketing budget. Yes, that is a lot of marketing budget. Just think how much they could improve the quality of the food for that amount.

Some of the improvements that McDonald's have made -- according to their press release -- are:

  • McDonald’s will automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal®. By the end of Q1 2012, they will also promote options that meet the new, rigorous Council of Better Business Bureaus Food Pledge nutrition standards. The impact will be an estimated 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in those meals.
  • In 2012, McDonald’s national marketing initiatives will focus on raising nutrition awareness among children and parents. The company will promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national kids’ communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald’s will also provide funding for grass roots community nutrition awareness programs.

  • McDonald’s has already reduced sodium by 10 percent in the majority of its national chicken menu offerings – most recently Chicken McNuggets®, a Happy Meal favorite.
  • By 2020, McDonald’s will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations.
  • By 2015, McDonald’s will reduce sodium an average of 15 percent overall across its national menu of food choices. 

Am I advocating eating at McDonalds? Not hardly. While I do admit that they are taking steps in the right direction, it has taken eight years for them to make these modest changes. The aren't even specifying how much added sugar will be reduced. And these modest changes are a result of pressure placed on them by advocacy groups and consumers not buying the product. It is significant that consumers and advocacy groups are influencing what McDonald's is serving and how they are doing business. It is important that people are beginning to see the connection between a poor diet and disease and are demanding better. How consumers spend their money wields a lot of power. An educated consumer can be a powerful force.

McDonald's want to increase its market share. According to Neil Golden, the company’s chief marketing officer for its American restaurants, there are two ways to do that. "One way to do that is by improving the food itself." (This would get my vote.) "Another way is to change how we think about that food." More specifically how consumers think about the quality of McDonald's food which according to Golden is "not where we want it to be.” "We also believe that there are more people that would want to come — if they could feel better about the product.” (To me this screams consumers need to be on their toes and really understand the assertions that food processors like McDonald's makes. For example, the amount of salt and fat is reduced, but is there any nutritional value?)

I think that Golden makes a very good point, but not in the way he intended. I believe that we need to change the way we think about food. In our education, we need to emphasize thinking about food as nutritional sustenance for our bodies, not as a source of happiness or as a way to reward ourselves when we "deserve a break today." We need to learn how to take a step back from our habits, our hunger and the marketing jingles and learn how to make choices that will lead to long term health and happiness. Eating should be a pleasant experience and food should taste good - that is one of Dr. Grandma's basic tenets. Dr. Grandma's is dedicated to providing information to help you make good nutritional choices. Look around our site, peruse our library, try our recipes and join us on the journey to authentic happy meals.