While they suffer from even more ignominy under a new glare induced by the HBO documentary series The Weight of the Nation, the roundly condemned purveyors of "junk" salt, sugar and calories aren't exactly lying low and saying their mea culpas. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and 7-Eleven are each fighting back in their own way.
Coca-Cola has launched a test of its own new "mid-calorie" sodas to join PepsiCo in trying once again the concept of a "hybrid" diet/non-diet drink even though other attempts by both companies to mine a moderately-minded market have failed. Coke plans to test Sprite Select and Fanta Select products this summer — with only half the calories, 70 of regular drinks per 12-ounce can — in test markets in Atlanta, Detroit, Louisville and Memphis.
Interestingly, Coke's new toe in the mid-calorie water will depend on a blend of sugar: Cargill's Truvia brand of natural sweetener stevia plus erythritol, a "sugar alcohol" (unlike the ingredients in PepsiCo's new, nationally available mid-cal, Pepsi Next, which includes sucralose and high-fructose corn syrup). That gives Coke a leg up on an "more natural" claim it might want to make for select beverages against Next.
Meanwhile, McDonald's keeps fighting public perceptions that it is a willing enabler of the rampant global obesity problem. In Australia, for example, a local effort is afoot in Melbourne to hit McDonald's, KFC and other fast-food outlets with a so-called "fat tax" of higher rates.
Particularly in the U.K., where McDonald's is in the spotlight as the official restaurant sponsor of this summer's London Olympics, the company is trying to curry more of the public favor which executives believe it deserves. To that end, its UK marketing team just rolled out a new microsite called "What Makes McDonald's?" that offers "myth-busting" material about its menu, marketing, suppliers and other points of contention.
But one image rehabilitation may be more interesting than any of those developments: what's happening to the Slurpee.
The iconic giant-sized ice-slush drinks available exclusively at 7-Eleven have come under siege as a symbol of the excessive sugar and calorie intake that critics say is largely responsible for the scourge of American childhood obesity.
So what's the convenience-store chain's answer? Sugar-free Slurpee Lite, which boasts 50 percent fewer calories — but "all the taste" — of regular Slurpees. Nutritional advocates likely won't be impressed until all that's left on the 7-Eleven menu is the fruit and water on its Facebook cover photo.