McDonald’s Finally Throws Open Doors in US Food Transparency Campaign

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As part of its new US marketing campaign to make its food production more transparent and address critics, McDonald’s is inviting people to submit questions via Twitter and Facebook and will answer the most common ones. Maybe the first question it answers should be: What took so long?

Years after it launched smaller but similar transparency initiatives in Canada and Australia, McDonald’s finally is throwing open its food production system in the US via a multi-pronged campaign, called “Our food. Your questions.”

The platform includes a major PR effort as well as a digital and social media campaign, and will culminate in a new national TV advertising campaign that launches Monday.

The company this week invited Good Morning America into one of its beef-supplier plants and has turned to former MythBusters cohost Grant Imahara to walk consumers through some of the biggest fallacies about McDonald’s food, answering questions such as whether McDonald’s still uses “pink slime” in its McNuggets (short answer: no) and whether its burgers are 100-percent pure beef (in a word, yes).[more]

“In today’s 24/7 news cycle, people are looking for faster, more straightforward responses to their questions about our food,” Ben Stringfellow, vice president of communications for McDonald’s USA, said in a statement. “We have great information to share and we’re looking forward to engaging in two-way conversations with as many people as possible.”

The campaign represents a hugely different tack by McDonald’s as it attempts to resuscitate a once-robust business in its home country that has been lagging lately, with sales sliding 1.5 percent at same stores after a 0.2-percent dip for all of last year. The beleaguered brand has been short on home-run new products as it also confronts problems with its formerly legendary service and still faces challenges on the healthfulness of its menu and the integrity of its products, while fast-casual competitors such as Chipotle nibble away at the key Millennials market.

So in that light, it’s a wonder that McDonald’s didn’t hit the transparency button sooner. A couple of years ago McDonald’s went online with a video from a Canadian plant, showing the production of McNuggets that only a vegan could object to and clearly demonstrating the absence of any nefarious ingredients in the process; it also has shown french fry production in Canada.

Also, questions about “pink slime” and other aspects of McDonald’s products have been bandied about online and in the news media for many years, providing a negative subtext that McDonald’s long has struggled to address.

At least give CEO Don Thompson kudos for finally pulling the trigger on this effort. And also give him credit for tasking his marketing people to address even the difficult questions they knew would be coming, in advance.

For instance, in one video posted on the company’s home page, as he tours a Cargill beef patty plant Imahara asks a plant supervisor, “Are there lips and eyeballs in there?” McDonald’s also admits that, while it doesn’t use “pink slime” in its products any longer, it does use “a small amount of an anti-foaming agent” in the oil used to cook McNuggets and does use beef that have been fed with hormones.

McDonald’s also squarely addresses another food-ingredient controversy with the kind of logic that usually is sorely missing in these debates. The chemical azodicarbonamide is an ingredient in its buns and rolls, McDonald’s admits. And, yes, this is the same substance that also is included in some non-food products such as yoga mats.

“As a result,” the McDonald’s explanation reads, “some people have suggested our food contains rubber or plastic, or that the ingredient is unsafe. It’s simply not the case. Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk.”

But in at least one case, a ridiculous bit of speculation seems beyond the pale even for a transparency-building campaign, and the chain treats it with the respect it deserves. “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?” the brand asks itself online. The answer: “No. Gross! End of story.”

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