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McDonald’s to automate its drive-thru lanes under new tech partnership

The move is the latest in the company’s attempt to modernize

As part of an effort to modernize its restaurants, McDonald’s will be adding artificial intelligence features to its drive-thru lanes. 

The restaurant chain announced on Tuesday that it’s acquiring tech startup Apprente, which has for the past two years been working on building a “voice-based conversational system that delivers a human-level customer service experience.” 

Applied to McDonald’s drive-thrus, Apprente’s technology -- which understands different accents and multiple languages -- could help speed up service. The fast-food chain says ramping up its digital capabilities is “fundamental” to its tech-focused growth plan, which was put in place as a way to meet “rising expectations from our customers” and to streamline the ordering process.

“Apprente’s gifted team, and the technology they have developed, will form McD Tech Labs, a new group integrated in our Global Technology team that will take our culture of innovation one step further,” McDonald’s president and CEO Steve Easterbrook in a statement. 

A more tech-focused experience 

Last year, McDonald’s unveiled its plan to incorporate more technology into its locations. The company said it planned to invest $6 billion into a modernization effort that would involve the addition of self-serve kiosks, digital menu boards, and modernized dining rooms with new furniture.

In March, McDonald’s announced that it would be purchasing a technology company called Dynamic Yield. The fast food giant said Dynamic Yield would be helping it personalize its drive-thru experience through the addition of technology. The firm’s machine learning technology gives McDonald’s menu displays the ability to change based on different factors, such as current weather or customers’ previous menu selections. 

“With this acquisition, we’re expanding both our ability to increase the role technology and data will play in our future and the speed with which we’ll be able to implement our vision of creating more personalized experiences for our customers,” Easterbrook said of the acquisition back in March.

The technology was added to more than 8,000 of the chain’s drive-thrus after the deal was struck. McDonald’s is aiming to have the technology in place at almost all of its U.S. and Australian drive-thrus by the end of 2019.

As part of an effort to modernize its restaurants, McDonald’s will be adding artificial intelligence features to its drive-thru lanes. The restaurant c...
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McDonald’s adding international menu items at U.S. restaurants

The limited-time promotion capitalizes on interest in international food

When you walk into your local McDonald’s this summer, you might be able to sample the flavors of Europe and Asia.

McDonald’s, after all, is a global company with stores in dozens of countries. And those international outlets usually serve at least one menu item unique to that country.

Starting June 5, participating U.S. McDonald’s will offer some of these international favorites, along with Big Macs and Egg McMuffins.

“We know our U.S. customers are curious about McDonald’s international menu items,” said Linda VanGosen, McDonald’s vice president of Menu Innovation. “Because we are always innovating our menu, we are thrilled to leverage our global scale and offer popular flavors from around the world next month.”  

Analysts say the initiative is a fairly easy way for the fast-food chain to capitalize on consumers’ growing interest in international foods. Even though McDonald’s has been working to streamline its menu, most of the international additions won’t require expanding the inventory of ingredients.

Dutch treat

Among the new menu items is the Stroopwafel McFlurry, which is served in McDonald’s restaurants in the Netherlands. It’s made with vanilla soft serve, a caramel swirl, and is topped off with chopped Dutch Daelmans Stroopwafel caramel waffle cookie pieces.

U.S. consumers will also be able to sample the Grand McExtreme Bacon Burger, a staple of the company’s restaurants in Spain. It’s basically a Quarter Pounder with applewood smoked bacon, a proprietary sauce, Gouda cheese, and slivered onions served on a toasted sesame seed bun.

Many U.S. McDonald’s will also serve the Tomato Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich, which comes from Canada. It’s similar to the chicken sandwich currently on U.S. menus but adds tomato & herb sauce, mozzarella cheese, onions, lettuce, and sliced Roma tomatoes served on a toasted artisan roll.

Test run in Chicago

The limited time international promotion had a test run last year when some stores imported McDonald’s Cheesy Bacon Fries from Australia.

“After such a positive customer reaction to Australia’s Cheesy Bacon Fries in the U.S., they’re taking a victory lap,” McDonald’s said in a press release.

The side is made with regular McDonald’s fries and is topped with cheddar cheese sauce and sprinkled with chopped up bacon.

McDonald’s has tried the international menu items at some stores in the Chicago market, but the company says this is the first time it’s rolled out these menu items nationwide.

When you walk into your local McDonald’s this summer, you might be able to sample the flavors of Europe and Asia.McDonald’s, after all, is a global com...
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McDonald’s to acquire tech company to personalize drive thru menu displays

Dynamic Yield will help the company increase personalization and improve the customer experience

As part of a larger effort to modernize its stores and better compete in the fast-food industry, McDonald’s has announced that it plans to purchase a technology company called Dynamic Yield.

The deal is valued at $300 million, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal, making it the chain’s biggest acquisition since buying Boston Market in 1999 for $173.5 million.

Dynamic Yield will help the fast-food giant personalize its drive-thru experience through the addition of technology that will enable the menu displays to change based on different factors, such as current weather. On a very hot day, for instance, the display could suggest an ice cream cone.

The technology can also display additional menu items based on customers’ selections.

“Technology is a critical element of our Velocity Growth Plan, enhancing the experience for our customers by providing greater convenience on their terms,” McDonald’s President and CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.

McDonald’s said its purchase of Dynamic Yield will help promote “the continued advancement and elevation of the McDonald’s customer experience with technology and innovation.”

“With this acquisition, we’re expanding both our ability to increase the role technology and data will play in our future and the speed with which we’ll be able to implement our vision of creating more personalized experiences for our customers,” Easterbrook said.

Incorporating technology

The restaurant chain said it tested the technology in several U.S. locations last year and “will begin to roll this technology out in the Drive Thru at restaurants in the United States in 2019,” with plans to expand its use to other top international markets later.

Last August, the company detailed its plan to incorporate more technology into its locations. To increase customer convenience and boost revenue, McDonald’s said it planned to add self-serve kiosks, digital menu boards, and modernize dining rooms with new furniture.

The company has also partnered with Uber Eats to add “McDelivery” at thousands of locations. McDonald’s CFO Kevin Ozan said earlier this year that the restaurant chain wants to focus on promoting its delivery service in 2019 as he Easterbrook both view delivery as a clear growth opportunity.

As part of a larger effort to modernize its stores and better compete in the fast-food industry, McDonald’s has announced that it plans to purchase a techn...
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McDonald’s announces plan to cut antibiotic use

The fast food giant is aiming to prevent medically important antibiotics from being used in its beef supply chain

McDonald’s has unveiled its plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in its beef. The fast food chain said Tuesday that it will take two years to decide how much of the antibiotics that are important to human health it can cut from its beef supply.

Ultimately, McDonald’s is aiming to address concerns about the overuse of antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO), the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all stated that they consider antibiotic resistance a threat to public health.

In October, a study revealed that most burger chains in the U.S. earn scores of “F” when it comes to their antibiotic policies.

Public health threat

McDonald’s now says it will take steps to “measure and understand” the use of antibiotics in 10 of its largest markets and strive to reduce their use by the end of 2020. The chain says it will begin reporting progress in achieving its goal to curb antibiotic use in 2022.

“McDonald’s iconic position and the fact that they’re the largest single global purchaser of beef make it hugely important,” said David Wallinga, a senior health adviser for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals has been fueling antibiotic resistance and contributing to growing problems with drug-resistant "superbugs" that can't be easily treated, according to the World Health Organization.

In August, the FDA pledged to “launch some new programs” to combat the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry.

“For all of these reasons, it’s critical that we implement good antimicrobial stewardship practices in human healthcare and veterinary settings,” the FDA’s Scott Gottlieb said. “We must continue to take new steps to slow the development of resistance and extend the usefulness of these lifesaving drugs.”

McDonald’s has unveiled its plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in its beef. The fast food chain said Tuesday that it will take two years to decide how...
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McDonald's removes artificial preservatives from its burgers

Artificial flavors and colors have also been banished

McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is the pickle, which customers can skip if they prefer.

The fast food chain says it's part of its "food journey" and affects all 14,000 U.S. locations. The change affects the McDonald's hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, McDouble, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and Big Mac.

“From switching to 100% fresh beef in our quarter-pound burgers, cooked right when ordered, to removing artificial preservatives in our Chicken McNuggets, and committing to cage-free eggs by 2025, we have made significant strides in evolving the quality of our food,” said Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s USA President.

“We know quality choices are important to our customers, and this latest positive change to our classic burgers demonstrates our committed journey to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s," Kempczinski added.

It's part of a trend driven by younger consumers, who are often more particular than their older peers about what they eat. Competitors like Panera and Chipotle Mexican Grill, even though they cost more, are valued, in part, for their natural ingredients.

So far, about two-thirds of McDonald's burgers and sandwiches are free of artificial additives, with the exception of the artificially-preserved pickle. The company said it has removed artificial preservatives from its cheese, Big Mac special sauce, and the hamburger, Quarter Pounder, and Big Mac buns.

Feeling good about food

“We understand that now more than ever, people care about their food – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it is prepared – and we are committed to make changes to our menu our guests feel good about,” said Linda VanGosen, McDonald’s vice president of Menu Innovation.

The move comes as the fast food chain has undergone something of a makeover. It has begun to renovate restaurants and install ordering kiosks that customers may use to avoid standing in line.

Once ordering, the customer can pay at the kiosk, take a number and have a seat. When it's ready, the food is brought to the table. In most fast food restaurants, the customers stand near the counter waiting for their order to be prepared.

In August, McDonald's announced it would spend $6 billion to upgrade most of its U.S. restaurants to include the ordering kiosks and take on a more modern look, in keeping with its McCafe branding.

McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is t...
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McDonald’s shuts down New York restaurant following food poisoning outbreak

Customers reported getting sick after eating breakfast sandwiches from a location in Jamestown, New York

McDonald’s has shut down one of its locations in Jamestown, New York after 22 individuals reported becoming ill with common symptoms of food poisoning.

The customers who became ill said they had eaten various breakfast sandwiches from the establishment between August 4 and August 21, the New York Department of Health said on Thursday. Symptoms reported included nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

"McDonald's is fully cooperating with this investigation and is readily following all recommendations of the State and County Health Departments while this investigation continues," the agency said in a statement.

Closed for cleaning and sanitation

The owner of the franchise has temporarily closed the Jamestown, New York location to clean the food preparation area, review the food preparation process, and obtain a fresh supply of ingredients. Breakfast sandwiches from the restaurant, as well as patient samples, are en route to New York State's Public Health Laboratory in Albany for testing.

Before the location reopens, there will be a follow-up meeting with the Chautauqua County Health Department "to ensure all recommendations [are] appropriately met."

The fast food chain was recently hit with another major food poisoning outbreak linked to its salads. Consumers in 15 states reported becoming ill after eating salads from McDonald’s; at least 16 people have been hospitalized for their symptoms.

In response to the incident, McDonald’s pulled salads from the 3,000 locations. The company has since found a new lettuce-blend supplier for those restaurants.

McDonald’s has shut down one of its locations in Jamestown, New York after 22 individuals reported becoming ill with common symptoms of food poisoning....
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McDonald’s investing $6 billion on modernization of its restaurants

The fast food chain’s upgrades are slated to run throughout 2018 and 2019

McDonald's and its franchisees are investing $6 billion on transforming most of its restaurants across the United States to reflect a more modern look, both inside and outside. The changes will include:

  • Remodeled counters to allow for new table service

  • Modernized dining rooms with new furniture and refreshed exterior designs

  • Digital self-order kiosks

  • New designated parking spots for curbside pickup for those who order on mobile

  • Digital menu boards inside and at the drive-thru

  • Expanded McCafé counters and larger display cases

  • Partnering with Uber Eats for "McDelivery" at 5,000 locations

Hundreds of McDonald's restaurants in every state will see these changes implemented, if they haven’t already. California will see the most restaurants upgraded with an estimated $390 million being invested in that state.

Staying relevant

McDonald's says it serves 25 million customers worldwide every day. However, while many of its classic menu items are still popular, consumers in the U.S. are increasingly seeking out healthier fare.

As a result, the company is struggling to stay relevant. To meet changing consumer preferences, McDonald’s has added kale to its salad and fresh beef has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders.

Some stores have also introduced digital and on-demand conveniences, such as ordering kiosks, food delivery, and barista-style cafes. Although the modernization effort includes the roll-out of self-order kiosks, the changes will not result in job losses, the company said.

“There will be no loss of employment and potentially an increase” in jobs, said Clay Paschen III, a franchisee who owns 16 McDonald’s restaurants in Ventura County, Calif. and employs nearly 1,000 people.

Paschen told the Los Angeles Times that there will be some shifts in duties because “we’re bringing the employees from behind the counter out front to engage, in a more personal way, with our customers.”

McDonald's and its franchisees are investing $6 billion on transforming most of its restaurants across the United States to reflect a more modern look, bot...
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McDonald's new McGold Card contest offers winners free food for life

The contest is aimed at boosting online sales

McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free meals per week for 50 years. The contest starts today (August 10th) and runs through August 24th.

To enter the contest, consumers must use McDonald’s mobile ordering system. According to the contest website, users place their order on the McDonald’s app, pay using any major credit card, and once the meal has been picked up at McDonald’s, customers are automatically entered into the drawing.

Those who want to bypass the app can send an email entry to entry@amoeentry.com with the subject as the date the email is sent, and the entrant’s first and last name in the body of the email. The limit is one entry per day -- regardless of method of entry.

“One potential winner will be selected from among all eligible Entries received for the entire Entry period, in a random prize drawing on or about August 29, 2018, conducted by an independent organization selected by Sponsor. The odds of winning a prize will be determined by the number of eligible Entries received,” the contest’s official rules read.

The winner not only wins the McGold card but will also receive a custom gold-plated phone case.

Public response

Despite the contest’s intention to bring more traffic to McDonald’s mobile app, there are some that think it will end up being nothing more than a failed marketing tactic for the fast food chain.

“This is going to cost them less than one corporate Christmas party,” said Rob Frankel, a Los Angeles-based branding strategy expert. “I don’t think it’s going to do anything to encourage the app usage. You have a much better chance of winning a state lottery than picking something like this up.”

Frankel also thinks that choosing only one winner makes McDonald’s look “incredibly cheap and chintzy.”

Similar deals

Despite that criticism, McDonald’s appears to be following in the footsteps of similar contests run by both Starbucks and Taco Bell.

Starbucks recently ran a contest -- Starbucks for Life -- that ended in January. Five winners in the United States won the grand prize, which was worth $56,675 each. The winners were entitled to one free beverage or food item of their choice every day for 30 years.

Back in 2014, Taco Bell ran the Eleven Everlasting Dollars challenge, which gave customers a 1 in 2.4 billion chance of ever winning. However, 11 winners won the prize that was worth roughly $11,000 each.

McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free...
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McDonald’s increases its investment in employee education

The company plans to increase its tuition assistance program by $150 million

McDonald’s has announced that it will invest an additional $150 million into its tuition assistance program for employees over the next five years.

The fast food giant’s Archways to Opportunity program was started in 2015 and has since provided college tuition assistance to over 16,400 employees.

In addition to investing more in the program, the company is lowering eligibility requirements from nine months to 90 days of employment and weekly shift minimums from 20 hours to 15 hours.

Accelerated by tax law changes

The new eligibility requirements -- which go into effect on May 1 -- will give up to 40,000 more restaurant employees access to the tuition assistance program. Eligible restaurant employees will have access to $2,500 a year and managers will have access to $3,000 a year.

The company says its decision to bolster its educational program was based on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

“Our commitment to education reinforces our ongoing support of the people who play a crucial role in our journey to build a better McDonald’s,” said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s President and CEO, in a statement.

“By offering restaurant employees more opportunities to further their education and pursue their career aspirations, we are helping them find their full potential, whether that’s at McDonald’s or elsewhere.”

Employees can apply their tuition assistance to either a trade school, community college, or a traditional four-year college.

McDonald’s has announced that it will invest an additional $150 million into its tuition assistance program for employees over the next five years.The...
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McDonald’s flips its golden arches to celebrate women

But not everyone is on board with the move

In celebration of International Women’s Day (Mar. 8), McDonald’s decided to flip its trademark golden arches upside down. The fast food chain changed its logo from a golden “M” into a golden “W” at one of its California locations “in celebration of women everywhere.”

Additionally, McDonalds will flip its logo upside on all of its social media channels, and 100 McDonald's locations across the country will have special “packaging, crew shirts and hats and bag stuffers.”

"For the first time in our brand history, we flipped our iconic arches," McDonald's Chief Diversity Officer Wendy Lewis said in a statement. "From restaurant crew and management to our C-suite of senior leadership, women play invaluable roles at all levels and together with our independent franchise owners we're committed to their success."

Social media backlash

Although the move was intended to honor “the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere,” some consumers took to social media to point out the implications of flipping the “M.”

“Now that it was inverted to make a ‘W’ for women, reversing it will make it an ‘M’ for men. Forever,” said one Twitter user.

Others said McDonald’s should prove that it honors and celebrates women by paying its staff more.

“You could also provide livable wages, better benefits, equal pay, legitimate career paths for the future, paid maternity leave…Or you can flip a logo upside down that works too,” another user quipped.

In celebration of International Women’s Day (Mar. 8), McDonald’s decided to flip its trademark golden arches upside down. The fast food chain changed its l...
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McDonald's rolls out fresh beef in select burgers

The chain is targeting consumers who want quality as well as value

In another sign that the burger war is heating up, McDonald's is launching the use of fresh ground beef in its Quarter Pounders and other signature sandwiches. Fresh beef is already being used in about 3,500 U.S. restaurants. The chain plans to extend that to 14,000 locations within the next two months.

Competing hamburger chain Wendy's has advertised the fact that its ground beef is "fresh and never frozen," comparing itself to an unnamed hamburger chain that uses frozen patties.

McDonald's USA CEO Chris Kempczinski says the move to fresh ground beef is part of what he calls a "food journey," noting the fast food chain has made a number of important changes in recent years -- committing to only sourcing cage-free eggs by 2025 in the U.S. and serving chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.

“The switch to fresh beef quarter-pound burgers is the most significant change to our system and restaurant operations since All Day Breakfast,” Kempczinski said. “Over the past two years, we have been listening to our customers and evolving our business to build a better McDonald’s. We are proud to bring our customers a hotter and juicier quarter-pound burger at the speed and convenience they expect from us.”

A year in the making

McDonald's announced the transition a year ago and began test marketing the concept in a number of markets. It said customer response was particularly strong in Dallas and Tulsa. The company expects the national rollout, which excludes Alaska and Hawaii, to give it an advantage in reaching consumers who want quality as well as value.

The decision coincides with other major changes at the fast food chain, which has remodeled restaurants using a sleek, modern design, installed ordering kiosks, and implemented limited table service, along the lines of more upscale chains like Panera Bread.

According to CNBC, the transition to fresh beef could help McDonald's speed up its service. It notes that a fresh patty can cook up to 40 seconds faster than a frozen one, helping to move cars through the drive-thru line a little faster.

With the move to fresh beef, McDonald's is also introducing a new menu item -- the Galic White Cheddar sandwich, made with either fresh beef or chicken.

In another sign that the burger war is heating up, McDonald's is launching the use of fresh ground beef in its Quarter Pounders and other signature sandwic...
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McDonald's to use fresh beef over frozen patties by mid-2018

The company is going back to basics and improving its burger game

McDonald’s has been attempting to go back to the basics to rework its fast food image. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would be catering to existing customers by focusing on hamburger sales, instead of selling wraps and other healthier products to draw in new customers.

Now the chain is doubling down on its burger approach. In an announcement made Thursday, the company said that it would be transitioning from using frozen patties to fresh beef in the majority of its restaurants by mid-2018. The change will augment other modernization efforts, such as using ordering kiosks and providing mobile payment options.

“Today’s announcement is part of a continuing food journey for McDonald’s,” said McDonald’s U.S. President Chris Kempczinski.

Fresh beef

This isn’t the first time that McDonald’s has talked about using fresh beef to make its burgers. About a year ago, the company started testing the idea in 14 restaurants in the Dallas area, saying that if consumers liked it then they would consider rolling it out nationally.

That program eventually expanded to hundreds of restaurants in the Dallas area, and consumers were happy to see that the change did not overly affect prices, according to the New York Times. While McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary pointed out that prices will ultimately be set by franchise owners, she stated that the company did not expect consumers to feel much burden.

“We do not anticipate there will be any significant impact on price when this sandwich rolls out nationally,” she said.

Catering to customers

While they may be responsible for setting future prices, some franchise owners have expressed concerns about switching from frozen patties. They point out that freezing their product is a good way of killing pathogens like E. coli, and that using fresh beef increases the risk of possible contamination.

Despite that risk, McDonald’s seems to be running with its new identity of giving the customers what they want. Hary said that if the fresh beef change goes well, then changes to other items could be just around the corner.

“[McDonald’s will] continue to look at the rest of the menu based on what the customers are asking for,” she said. 

McDonald’s has been attempting to go back to the basics to rework its fast food image. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would be catering...
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McDonald's outlines plans to modernize

Ordering kiosks, mobile payments, and table service part of the future

McDonald's executives have outlined sweeping changes planned for the fast food franchise, designed to reduce staffing needs while streamlining and modernizing the operation.

At press briefings in New York and Los Angeles, McDonald's said it is adding ordering kiosks to restaurants, installing “smart” menu boards, implementing mobile payments capabilities to its app, and will begin offering custom sandwiches and table service.

The moves are designed to update McDonald's business model, along the lines of Panera Bread and Chick-Fil-A, both of which now bring food to customers' tables after they order.

Reuters reports that about 500 of McDonald's 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. have already made some of the changes – notably stores in New York, Florida, and California. The company stopped short of giving a time frame for the changes to be implemented, but said outlets in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco are next on the list.

Mobile roll-out in 2017

Mobile ordering will be a pilot project in the first half of next year in select markets, with a full national roll-out anticipated in the second half of 2017.

The ordering kiosks, which are estimated to cost franchisees as much as $60,000, will likely reduce the number of employees a McDonald's restaurant will need to operate. The company has borne the brunt of labor pressure to increase the hourly wage of fast-food workers.

As we reported earlier this year, McDonald's franchises have been experimenting with changes that the company may or may not have been considering for incorporation into its system. A Missouri franchise owner built a 6,500 square foot store and outfitted it with upholstered furniture. Interestingly, he also experimented with all-you-can-eat French fries. At the time, it suggested the 61-year old company is open to new ideas.

Not a new idea

As for ordering kiosks, this is hardly a new idea for the golden arches. In early 2015, McDonald's told financial analysts that ordering kiosks were on the way. Other quick serve restaurants have successfully used these kiosks, and McDonald's may be looking at them as a way to deal with the pressure to increase employee wages.

Part of the pressure to raise wages likely stems from recent structural changes in the economy. Many fast food restaurants created jobs designed to be filled by teenagers living at home.

But because so many jobs have recently disappeared from the economy, that's not always who's standing behind the counter these days.

McDonald's executives have outlined sweeping changes planned for the fast food franchise, designed to reduce staffing needs while streamlining and moderniz...
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McDonald's gets rare praise from Consumers Union

Consumer organization says chain delivered on antibiotic-free promise ahead of schedule

It's not often that Consumers Union praises a fast food company, but the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports says McDonald's deserves a pat on the back for meeting its pledge to stop selling chicken that had been given medically important antibiotics.

In fact, the group says the fast food company met its commitment sooner than it had promised.

In praising McDonald's, Consumers Union called on Yum Brands to take the same step, demanding that meat and poultry suppliers limit or discontinue antibiotics use. It says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that too much use of antibiotics makes the drugs less effective against bacteria.

'Reckless overuse'

“The reckless overuse of these critical medications on healthy livestock is contributing to our antibiotics resistance crisis,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.

She said McDonald’s has proven that it’s possible to eliminate antibiotic use on a large scale without affecting supply.

“We urge Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food restaurants to follow McDonald’s lead and make the same commitment to public health,” she said.

McDonald’s is several months ahead of schedule. When it announced it would phase out antibiotics in its chicken, it promised to do so by March 2017. Chik-fil-A, which sells more chicken than any fast food chain, says it will stop sales of poultry raised on antibiotics by 2019.

Animals given 80% of U.S. antibiotics

Consumers Union says about 80% of all the antibiotics used in the U.S. are not consumed by humans but by animals. The drugs are used to make the animals grow faster, and also to help keep them free of disease. When humans consume the meat, they're getting some of the antibiotics.

The CDC is leading efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics, both by prescription and in livestock. The health agency says at least two million people a year in the U.S. become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Of those, it says at some 23,000 people die.

It's not often that Consumers Union praises a fast food company, but the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports says McDonald's deserves a pat on...
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McDonald's decides to phase out wraps

The items were never quite the hit with millennials or healthy eaters

There are a couple of strategies that most fast food places use in order to stay relevant and in the consumer eye. One, obviously, is to offer rock bottom prices that attract consumers who are looking for a deal. Another is to create a new menu item or offer that appeals to a certain consumer group that the company is looking to tap into.

Unfortunately, it seems that the second strategy didn’t exactly pay off for McDonald’s. According to a Bloomberg report, the company is choosing to take wraps off its menu, an item that was meant to attract younger, healthier eaters.

Wraps come up short

Millennials are becoming a big part of the consumer base, so it only makes sense that companies would want to try and tailor their business models to draw them in. For McDonald’s, this meant the introduction of its Premium McWraps in 2013; the new items had few calories than the franchise’s iconic burgers and were viewed as a healthier alternative.

Unfortunately, the wraps ended up being something of a flop, according to Jack Russo, an analyst for Edward Jones. Putting them together proved to be time consuming for McDonald’s employees, and consumers never really seemed to latch onto them, perhaps just because the items were just not what they were looking for.

“A lot of people who eat at restaurants aren’t interested in health and wellness. . . You’ve got to give the people what they want,” said Russo.

Looking forward

So, as a result, McDonald’s has begun phasing out wraps from the vast majority of its 14,000 U.S. locations, including both the large and snack-sized options. Some establishments may be holding on to certain varieties of wraps, such as the chicken ranch snack wrap, but consumers will find it increasingly difficult to find.

Don’t fret too much about McDonald’s well-being, though. The company’s latest promotion of offering all-day breakfast has proven to be a hit with consumers and has been a chief reason for stopping the franchise’s seven-quarter U.S. sales slump. Still, executives at the company may still be looking for a new menu item that will propel them into the future.

“We need something that’s really got some juice to it – something that really can bring some excitement again,” said Russo.

There are a couple of strategies that most fast food places use in order to stay relevant and in the consumer eye. One, obviously, is to offer rock bottom ...
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McDonald's winning back consumers

Latest earnings report suggests restaurant chain is turning things around

Just a year ago fast-food giant McDonald's appeared to be on the outs with consumers. Sales were down and franchise operators were on the verge of revolt over an ever-changing menu.

But new CEO Steve Easterbrook's turnaround plan appears to be taking hold. McDonald's blew away Wall Street's fourth quarter earnings estimates Monday, reporting revenue of $6.34 billion and a profit of $1.31 per share.

Notably, both numbers were lower from the fourth quarter a year ago, but expectations had been driven so low that the earnings beat sent the stock higher on Monday's trading.

Out of sync

Expectations have been falling because McDonald's simply appeared to be out of sync with the times. As restaurants promising “fresh” ingredients that were “locally sourced” ascended, McDonald's continued to see same store sales decline.

Pressured into completely revamping its marketing, children no longer pestered their parents to go to McDonald's, where apple slices had replaced French fries in many kids' meals. But the fourth quarter results may suggest that McDonald's has figured out the 21st century consumer – not just in the U.S. but around the world.

One reason for the restaurant chain's impressive recovery was international sales. The company reports global sales were up 5%. Global comparable sales rose 1.5%.

All Day Breakfast

But some analysts attribute McDonald's success to the fact consumers can now get an Egg McMuffin – and a few other breakfast items – at any hour of the day. But McDonald's didn't begin the All Day Breakfast Menu until late in the year.

Still, business analysts say it answered consumers' primary complaint about the chain – lack of menu variety – and it was enough to provide a strong boost to the fourth quarter.

McDonald's, it appears, is back.

"We are demonstrating that our turnaround plan is key to restarting growth and becoming a modern and progressive burger company,” Easterbrook said in the earnings release.

Rather than following the latest food trends, it's back to the future. So far, at least, it's paying off.

Just a year ago fast-food giant McDonald's appeared to be on the outs with consumers. Sales were down and franchise operators were on the verge of revolt o...
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Consumers and franchise owners have opposite views of McDonald's

Consumers like all-day breakfast, restaurant operators not so much

Two surveys conducted independently reveal starkly different feelings about McDonald's. One sampled consumer sentiment – the other the feelings of McDonald's franchise operators.

If you guessed that consumers have the negative view and operators the bullish outlook, you would be wrong.

According to the YouGov BrandIndex, McDonald's all-day breakfast, which debuted October 6, is a hit with consumers. The fast food chain has seen the biggest improvement in customer satisfaction among frequent breakfast diners over the past 90 days. McDonald's raised its satisfaction scores approximately seven percentage points from 15 to 22, on a scale from -100 to 100, with zero being neutral.

The survey found 42% of consumers who frequently eat breakfast at fast food restaurants would consider eating at McDonald's the next time they eat breakfast out. That's second behind Subway's 48% and well ahead of Taco Bell, which has made a major breakfast marketing push lately.

Stock soars

Wall Street is also pleased with what new CEO Steve Easterbrook has been doing lately. McDonald's stock is over $103, the highest level in years.

But the second survey may show the company faces some challenges. In fact, it prompted a headline writer for the Daily Mail to write “Is this the beginning of the end for McDonald's?”

The survey is the work of Wall Street analyst Mark Kalinowski, who questioned 29 franchise owners who operate 226 McDonald's restaurants. Admittedly, it's a small sample of the 14,000 McDonald's locations.

But Kalinowski found the overwhelming majority of the owners he surveyed had a negative view – not just of all-day breakfast, which one called “a disaster” – but of the company's future.

Klinowski says one pessimistic operator suggested McDonald's was in its “final days” and that the brand as a whole was in a “deep depression.”

“Seeds of our demise”

Another unhappy franchise owner estimated that 30% of franchise operators are insolvent. Another accused Easterbrook of sowing the “seeds of our demise. We are a quick-serve fast-food restaurant, not a fast casual like Five Guys or Chipotle. The system may be facing its final days,” the operator wrote.

Another franchise owner said “the lack of leadership is frightening.” Some said the company has not addressed the issue of food quality and customer service, and instead has burdened franchises with all-day breakfast while not acting on promises to streamline the menu.

Klinowski quotes one franchisee as saying “we continue to jump from one failed initiative to another.”

The analyst says several franchise owners said the all-day breakfast has slowed down service while causing chaos in the kitchens.

In short, they're not lovin' it.

Two surveys conducted independently reveal starkly different feelings about McDonald's. One sampled consumer sentiment – the other the feelings of McDonald...
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McDonald’s switching to cage-free eggs

Humane Society says move could have huge impact on egg industry

There is little question that younger consumers have strong feelings about the food they eat. They tend to be as concerned with how it's produced as how it tastes.

Some manufacturers and restaurant chains have been able to profit from this trend by adapting to Millennials' value and preferences. McDonald’s, because of its vast scale, has had more difficulty.

But the fast food giant is signaling that it “gets it,” announcing that it will fully transition to cage-free eggs for its nearly 16,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada over the next 10 years.

Where food comes from

“Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from,” said McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres. “Our decision to source only cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we place on food quality and our menu to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations.”

Small chains and independent restaurants have won youthful followings in recent years by stressing “fresh” and “locally sourced” food. McDonald’s, with thousands of restaurants around the world and a vast supply chain, has sometimes found implementing those concepts challenging.

Additionally, McDonald’s built its empire at a time when different food values prevailed. Much of McDonald’s success was because it was convenient, affordable and predictable. Also, kids loved going there.

But in the age of childhood obesity, McDonald’s has been forced to dial back its appeal to children. Sales slumped and its stock price suffered.

New direction

In March, McDonald's took a step in a different direction when it announced that it would stop using chickens treated with antibiotics that are also used to treat humans. Some activist groups reflexively critical of the company expressed skepticism, but The New York Times noted that McDonald's is one of the largest buyers of chicken in the U.S., and the decision would likely have a major impact on how poultry is raised.

This time, there may be fewer skeptics.

“This is a watershed moment in a decades-long effort to eliminate the cruelest confinement from our food supply,” said Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) president and CEO Wayne Pacelle, in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “McDonald’s admirable move makes clear that egg productions’ future is cage-free.”

That's because McDonald's scale is huge. On an annual basis, U.S. stores use approximately two billion eggs and McDonald’s Canada purchases 120 million eggs to serve on its breakfast menus.

McDonald's also took pains to point out that it already sources some of its eggs from cage-free suppliers, pointing out for good measure that one supplier – Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Michigan – is “family owned,” another trait prized by Millennial consumers.

Marion Gross, senior vice president and Chief Supply Chain Officer of McDonald’s North America, says the company has been working toward going 100% cage-free for some time, calling the latest announcement a big milestone “building on our work with industry experts and suppliers to improve the treatment of animals.”

There is little question that younger consumers have strong feelings about the food they eat. They tend to be as concerned with how it's produced as how it...
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America has a growing appetite for burgers

High beef prices and health concerns aren't hurting sales

Despite recent trends toward healthier foods, U.S. consumers still love hamburgers. A large beef patty piled high with garnish and condiments has never fallen out of favor. In fact, its popularity may be growing.

That fact was underscored this week when Shake Shack, a small chain featuring gourmet burgers and thick, creamy milk shakes, surprised Wall Street with blowout earnings.

The New York based firm, which enjoys a “health halo” among foodies who value its antibiotic-free beef but overlook the massive calories, reported sales jumped nearly 13% in the second quarter. Analysts were looking for an 8.6% rise.

Shake Shack vs. McDonald's

Shake Shack is immensely popular with hip, urban consumers whereas McDonald's, the long-time fast food burger champion, is not. McDonald's has struggled in recent years as it has tried to add healthier fare to its menu and removed some of the lower-priced “value” items that many of its customers like.

But there is evidence that McDonald's is ready to up its game in the burger wars. This week, Wall Street trader Tim Seymour, a regular on the CNBC program Fast Money, filed this video report from a Manhattan McDonald's location that is experimenting with a customizable gourmet burger.

Using a touchscreen kiosk, Seymour was able to create a burger to his liking, including being able to select the type of bun and gourmet condiments he wanted. The kiosks are being added to select McDonald's locations in the roll out of what the company calls the“Create Your Taste” burger.

Game changer

By the time Seymour had created his burger, his custom toppings had pushed the price up to $10, but he seemed to be satisfied. He called the “Create Your Taste” a “game-changer” for the iconic burger franchise.

Technomic's latest Burger Consumer Trend Report says 57% of consumers eat a burger at least once a week. It notes that all burger restaurants, not just those offering high-end, gourmet burgers, are prospering in spite of health concerns and rising beef prices.

"Utilizing value beef cuts and incorporating non-beef proteins can help lower costs and broaden the range of needs burgers can satisfy," said Sara Monnette, Technomic vice president. "Specialty ingredients like pretzel buns can enhance the value perception, and unique toppings and sauces, stuffed patties, and premium sides can add to craveability and brand differentiation."

The report, based on interviews with more than 1,500 consumers and restaurant operators, suggests McDonald's might be on the right track with its “Create Your Taste” feature. It found 61% of consumers think it is important to be able to customize the toppings and condiments, with 43% prioritizing build-your-own burgers.

On a weekly basis, 39% of consumers get their burgers from fast-food restaurants and 39% make them at home.

Despite recent trends toward healthier foods, U.S. consumers still love hamburgers. A large beef patty piled high with garnish and condiments has never fal...
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Everyone loves to hate this embarrassing McDonald's ad campaign

"Lovin' > Hatin'" > "Lovin' beats Hatin'" according to anonymous Hamburger University grads

McDonald's wants you to know that, despite preliminary reports suggesting the hamburger chain would supplement its decade-old ad slogan “I'm lovin' it” with the complementary slogan “Lovin' beats hatin',” the company is not – repeat, not – actually planning to adopt “Lovin' beats hatin'” as its new slogan.

Instead, the new slogan is to be “Lovin' is greater than hatin',” also spelled out mathematically as “Lovin' > Hatin'.”

The Wall Street Journal blog first reported the incorrect “Lovin' beats hatin'” rumor last week, but only yesterday did BurgerBusiness.com discover that the actual intended catchphrase is slightly different: last week, McDonald's filed U.S. federal trademark registrations for “Lovin' is greater than hatin'” and “Lovin' > hatin'.”

Overwhelmingly negative

In other news, American students continue to score below the worldwide average on mathematics proficiency tests. So maybe McDonald's could promote its new campaign as an attempt to increase kids' familiarity with mathy concepts, but at what cost to proper writing skills?

Of course, it might not actually matter. Given the overwhelmingly negative response to both reported ad campaigns, and given also that the theoretical purpose of advertising is supposed to be “Make people like your company enough to spend money there,” McDonald's might eventually decide to abandon the campaign after all. Advertising professionals must surely know it doesn't bode well for any promotional campaign, when a search for the slogan on Twitter brings up typical remarks like this:

.@McDonalds's new "Lovin' > Hatin'" slogan to reach Millennials might as well be "I'm a cool mom, right?!

McDonald's wants you to know that, despite preliminary reports suggesting the hamburger chain would supplement its decade-old ad slogan “I'm lovin' it” wit...
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Study suggests fast food ads hide healthy food choices

In Burger King ad, kids mistake apple slices for fries

It isn't enough for fast food restaurants to offer healthier fare for children. They have to present the healthier food in ways that kids can recognize it.

So says a new study by researchers at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The study gathered a group of kids, age 3 to 7, and showed them screen grabs from a number of fast food TV commercials.

The commercials for McDonald's and Burger King promoted kids' meals that included healthier contents -- things like milk and apple slices.

Not sure what they're seeing

But the researchers discovered that was completely lost on many of the children viewing the advertising images. Some were unable to recognize the milk in the McDonald's ad.

Others consistently misidentified the apple slices in the Burger King ad as French Fries, as graphically illustrated in the video below.

The reason for the children's confusion is understood when you look closely at the apple slices container. While it bears the picture of an apple, it is nearly identical to the container traditionally used for fries. The point is driven home by the last child in the video, who identifies it as “French fries in an apple bag.”

Trying to be helpful?

But maybe the fast food companies consciously designed the apple slices to look like fries to make them more palatable to children. After all, kids like fries – maybe they'll like apple slices if they look like fries.

The study's authors aren't buying it.

"Burger King's depiction of apple slices as ‘Fresh Apple Fries' was misleading to children in the target age range," said Norris Cotton's James Sargent, MD, the principal investigator for the study. "The advertisement would be deceptive by industry standards, yet their self-regulation bodies took no action to address the misleading depiction."

Push for healthier food

Both McDonald's and Burger King have offered healthier food choices in kids meals since 2010 amid pressure to take steps to help reduce child obesity. The researchers began studying the television ads for those products that same year.

They say that of four four healthy foods depicted in the ads, only McDonald's apple slices were recognized as an apple product by a large majority of the target audience. The other three depictions, they say, were poorly communicated.

Fast food companies might react to this criticism with an air of exasperation. After all, they've altered their menus to offer children a healthier choice and promised to de-emphasize toy giveaways, long a staple of marketing to children.

But Sargent and his colleague say children need to be aware of the choices, and pictures of apple slices that are confused with French fries don't help.

"The fast food industry spends somewhere between $100 to 200 million dollars a year on advertising to children, ads that aim to develop brand awareness and preferences in children who can't even read or write, much less think critically about what is being presented," Sargent said.

Self regulation

A 2013 study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which also funded this most recent research, was sharply critical of the industry's voluntary approach to advertising regulation. The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), formed in 2006, is a voluntary program run by the Better Business Bureau.

CFBAI includes 17 food and beverage companies that have promised to devote all of their child-directed advertising to healthier foods and lifestyles.

The study, however, found that fast-food restaurants tended to emphasize toy giveaways and movie promotions when marketing to kids on TV, a move counter to the industry's promise.

It isn't enough for fast food restaurants to offer healthier fare for children. They have to present the healthier food in ways that kids can recognize it....
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Big changes under the Golden Arches

NFL-themed toys, "Fast Forward" drive-throughs and McCafe coffee in stores

Change is coming to McDonaldland. Last month, when we mentioned McDonald’s then-new plan to pass out self-published pro-nutrition kids’ books with its Happy Meals, we were rather skeptical of the idea that the program would prove successful.

But successful or not, it didn’t last long. Now, barely more than a month later, McDonald’s is unrolling another new Happy Meal promotion: NFL-themed toys to tie in with the children’s Rush Zone show on Nickelodeon, in addition to McDonald’s status as the NFL’s “official restaurant sponsor.”

The company is also investing an additional $3 billion (that’s “billion” with a “B”) to remodel its famous Golden Arches – or, rather, to remodel the restaurants which bear them. 

The scheduled enhancements are to include extra drive-thru windows (a “Fast Forward Drive-Thru,” where customers can go if their order isn’t ready by the time they reach the regular pickup window).

McDonald’s is also branching out into the grocery-store-coffee business; AdAge reported the company’s intention to start selling its McCafe coffee in grocery stores next year.

AdAge quoted a McDonald’s executive who noted that 70 percent of American coffee consumption is at home, yet the chief purpose of the grocery store sales is supposed to be the creation of “greater awareness and [to] sell more coffee in our restaurants.” To that end, the company has also admitted that its customer service record needs improvement, especially when handling lunchtime crowds.

So, to recap the week in McDonald’s improvisations: more coffee sales, hopefully faster coffee sales, football-themed kids’ toys and a third drive-thru window called “Fast Forward” where customers go to wait when the first two drive-thru windows haven’t finished filling their orders yet. We’re assuming they still sell burgers and fries, too.

Change is coming to McDonaldland. Last month, when we mentioned McDonald’s then-new plan to pass out self-published pro-nutrition kids’ books w...
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McDonald's to give away kids' books with Happy Meals

Self-published masterpieces emphasizing the importance of good nutrition

Since our name is Consumer Affairs rather than Corporate Affairs, we generally focus on offering [hopefully] useful advice to consumers, and let the marketing departments of wealthy multinational corporations fend for themselves.

But today we’ll make an exception just long enough to advise McDonald’s: “Your attempts to sell yourselves as the go-to place for health-enhancing, educational kidstuff are getting embarrassing.”

Get this: a couple weeks ago, McDonald’s announced that it would stop advertising soda as the default drink option for children’s Happy Meals. Instead, it would try pushing milk, water or juice alongside a new marketing campaign to include “packaging innovations and designs to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water options for kids.”

That, presumably, has something to do with this week’s announcement that McDonald’s will start handing out children’s books along with its Happy Meals.

This won’t be the first time McDonald’s has used books as Happy Meal promotions. In the early 1980s they gave out Little Golden Books, fun titles like Tom and Jerry’s Party and The Monster at the End of this Book. We actually had some of these books as children, and remember them being extremely funny by childish preschool standards—though we’ll admit that, for parents, the books probably lose their allure around the 357th or 358th time your kid demands you read them.

Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem with the latest round of Happy Meal book offerings. Rather than already-popular children’s stories, this time McDonald’s will offer self-published books emphasizing the importance of good nutrition.

Here’s what Ad Age had to say about them:

One book, "The Goat Who Ate Everything," is about a goat who has a big appetite and struggles to eat well but eventually learns to eat smart. Another, "Deana's Big Dreams," shows how Deana, the world's smallest dinosaur, grew tall by eating well.

Consumers rate McDonalds
Sigh. Healthy eating is genuinely important—you’ll never catch us speaking against a diet rich in healthful fruits and vegetables—but we still believe “Eating healthy doesn’t mean everything you eat has to be Healthy with a capital H,” just being well-educated doesn’t mean everything you read has to be Educational with a capital E.

Maybe McDonald’s would be better off reprising its early-1970s “You deserve a break today” campaign and aiming it at kids, who already have their parents, teachers, school cafeteria billboards and First Lady Michelle Obama constantly reminding them to eat right and worry about getting fat. Sometimes kids deserve a break, too.

Since our name is Consumer Affairs rather than Corporate Affairs, we generally focus on offering [hopefully] useful advice to consumers, and let the market...
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McDonald's strips sodas from Happy Meals

New healthy-food ad campaign promises to be interesting

Pre-emptive disclaimer: It’s very very important to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing all necessary vitamins, minerals, simple and complex proteins, sufficient levels of dietary fiber, and other nutritional stuff. Our own personal kitchen is chock-full of healthy ingredients used to cook healthy meals eaten in accordance with a healthy lifestyle. There’s also a big bag of jellybeans, and we’re eating some even as we type this.

Flavored sugar is all they are, with nary a vitamin or mineral to be found in them, and if we tried subsisting on an all-jellybean diet we’d surely develop horrible health problems before too long. But we’re not going to do that; we eat a generally healthy diet, and know that “eating healthy” doesn’t mean “everything you eat has to be Healthy with a capital H.”  So in general, we eat balanced, nutritious meals consisting of capital-H Healthy stuff — and sometimes we indulge on jellybeans, ice cream or greasy, salty fast food.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is trying to add more capital-H foods to its menu while reducing the number of indulgence products it offers. That’s why it publicly announced its new intention to stop listing soda as a beverage offering on its Happy Meal menu.

Instead, store menus will offer water, milk and juice, and Happy Meals and other foods will feature “packaging innovations and designs to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water options for kids.”

Humans in general — and children in particular — evolved to crave fat and sugar when we were still hunter-gatherers roaming the prehistoric African savannas. Fatty, sugary foods are extremely rare in the wild, and craving these rare, high-energy, high-calorie foodstuffs (along with our ability to turn excess calories into body fat), helped our ancient ancestors survive the epochs when food shortages were a constant threat.

Blame industrial farming

Only in the modern era of industrial-scale farming and food production has the average person needed to worry that their diet might contain too much fat or sugar, or too many calories; for most of our time on Earth, humanity’s main dietary problem was getting too littleof these things.

So, anyway, if McDonald’s thinks a marketing campaign can undo five billion years of evolutionary development and make kids crave water and vegetables in lieu of fatty, sugary yum-yums when they’re in the mood for a treat, we wish McDonald’s the very best of luck.

When AdAge wrote about the new McDonald’s soda-downplaying initiative, it quoted a spokeswoman from the Center for Science in the Public Interest who said “Getting soda out of Happy Meals is historic progress that should immediately be adopted by Burger King, Wendy's, and other chains. Soda and other sugar drinks are leading promoters of obesity and diabetes and one day it will seem crazy that restaurants ever made this junk the default beverage for kids.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps one day it will seem crazy that a grown adult makes no distinction between “drinking soda” and “drinking nothing but soda.” It’s just like jellybeans: neither is a capital-H Healthy food, but both can certainly exist in a healthy diet.

Of course, the CSPI has been opposed to McDonald’s and other fast-food outlets for a long time. In 2010, it tried (unsuccessfully) to sue the company and force it to stop handing out toys along with its Happy Meals.  CSPI spokesman Michael Berman insisted that putting toys in a Happy Meal (or doing anything else which might convince a child to eat something that isn’t Healthy with a capital H), is “as inappropriate and anachronistic as lead paint, child labor and asbestos.”

See? If it’s not Healthy with a capital H, it may as well be outright poison, and thus according to the CSPI, the next time your kid asks you for a Happy Meal so she can have the cool toy inside, it is not inappropriate to feed her lead paint instead. They’re practically the same thing.

Pre-emptive disclaimer: It is very very important to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing all necessary vitamins, minerals, simple and complex prot...
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McDonald's testing box o'burgers

It's sort of like a bucket of chicken but who wants cold burgers?

KFC has had a long and profitable relationship with its bucket of fried chicken. And the McDonald's Happy Meal -- basically a burger in a box -- has been a big seller with kids. 

So why not a box of burgers -- a family-sized meal package?

McDonald's is testing the idea in Kansas City and calling it the Blitz Box. It contains two Quarter Pounders with cheese, two medium french fries, and 20 Chicken McNuggets, according to Burger Business.

All of this would set you back $14.99.

For now, McDonald's says there are no plans to expand beyond Kansas City, Mo., where the burger box is part of a promotion tied to the Kansas City Chiefs and the opening of the NFL season. It goes without saying, though, that if it's a blockbuster in KCMO, you can expect to see it elsewhere.

Consumers rate McDonalds

The box has been around in various guises since at least March 2010, when the "Dinner Box" was introduced in Australia. In 2011, the chain added a Mates Meal, which substituted chicken for burgers, Burger Business reported. In Malaysia, you can get a "Family Breakfast" and in the Czech Republic, it's a "McBox."

But Burger Business editor Scott Hume writes that while a box of chicken is a natural, it doesn't necessilary work that well for burgers. 

"Cold chicken is fine, but cold burgers are not," he writes. "But now the tight marketplace has convinced McDonald's to try it." 

McDonald's has had to cut back on its Dollar Menu as the price of beef has risen, he noted.

KFC has had a long and profitable relationship with its bucket of fried chicken. And the McDonald's Happy Meal -- basically a burger in a box -- has been a...
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Measuring inflation by the Big Mac

By following the cost of the iconic burger you can keep track of real prices

If you follow the monthly reports from the Labor Department, you know that inflation has all but disappeared from the U.S. economy. Despite the Federal Reserve pumping money into the economy for years, prices have hardly risen.

In fact, the government's inflation report for March 2013 showed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) actually went down 0.2%. Over the last 12 months the inflation rate has been a feeble 1.5%.

A big reason for this is the absence of demand in the economy. Since the Great Recession, businesses and consumers have reduced their spending. If there isn't increased demand for goods and services, it's hard to raise prices. But as any consumer will tell you, the cost of many things still seems to be going up.

For consumers who want a more accurate reading on prices, they need look no further than their neighborhood McDonald's. Just keep an eye on the price of a Big Mac.

The Big Mac Index

In 1986 The Economist devised what it called The Big Mac Index as a way to track relative currency values. By monitoring what a Big Mac cost in yen, Swiss francs or dollars, you could see how currencies were fluctuating in relation to each other. 

But investment broker Peter Schiff, author of The Real Crash, says you can also use The Big Mac Index to measure real inflation in the U.S. He says over the last decade the Big Mac, McDonald's iconic burger, has gone up in price almost three times as fast as the official rate of inflation. 

Schiff and others claim that the government's official inflation statistics mask the true nature of inflation. Consumers suggest the same thing from time to time. William, of Conroe, Tex., complained recently about the new packaging of Nabisco crackers.

Smaller boxes

“Quite frankly, you are now selling 10 oz. boxes instead of 16 oz. boxes for the same price,” William wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I will go to another brand if you don't bring back the multi-grain wheat crackers with sea salt. Are you looking to go away like Hostess did?”

It can also show up in more subtle ways. You book a flight on an airline, choosing what appears to be a competitive fare. But when you actually take the flight you pay fees for luggage, food and desirable seats and enjoy less and less service.

Both the airline and the cracker company are faced with the same problem. Their costs are rising but they don't want to raise the cost of their product for fear they will lose business to their competitors. So the cracker company sells fewer crackers for the same price and the airline adds fees and reduces service to keep its fares low.

Common trend

A 2011 report by Consumer Reports found the downsizing of products was a trend that spread across a number of industries.

“Higher commodity and fuel costs are expected to spike in food prices by as much as three percent,” Todd Marks, senior editor and resident shopping expert at CR said at the time of the report. “But if manufacturers are skimping when costs go up, why aren’t they more generous when costs hold steady or fall?”

Companies sometimes go to great lengths to disguise their price hikes. They indent the bottom of containers, make plastic wraps thinner or whip air into ice cream, just to name a few tricks.

For consumers who want to stay focused on the true cost of things, however, watching the price of McDonald's double-deck hamburger may provide the best clue.

To form its index The Economist averages the price of a Big Mac in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. In 1986 the cost of a U.S. Big Mac was $1.60. In 2011 it was $3.80. Between 2001 and 2011, when inflation barely rose, the price of a Big Mac increased $1.28.

That works our to 33%, or 3.3% per year.

If you follow the monthly reports from the Labor Department, you know that inflation has all but disappeared from the U.S. economy. Despite the Federal Res...
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Are hamburgers dying a slow death?

A recent report shows more consumers are ordering chicken sandwiches

Most likely, it won’t sway beef lovers to make a switch but the traditional hamburger has some pretty stiff competition these days, especially with more and more veggie and turkey burgers showing up on menus.

And although chicken sandwiches have been next to hamburgers on fast-food menus for quite some time, even they’re getting some newfound love and rivaling burgers in both sales and consumer interest.

In some places, chicken sandwiches are even doing more than just rivaling burgers, as data has been gathered by the research firm Mintel and released by the site BurgerBusiness.com that shows chicken sandwiches are replacing beef hamburgers as the best sellers in a lot of fast-food places.

Researchers point to the sandwich shift taking place around 2010, when lean boneless beef costs were up by 32%, which of course pushed stores to buy other products besides traditional burgers.

And the survey shows other reasons for the change.

A couple of years back, McDonald’s released its Zesty BBQ Cruncher and gave consumers the option to make it a beef or chicken burger, which was a telling sign of just how popular fried and grilled chicken sandwiches were becoming and how confident restaurants were that they could move them.

And if you’ll notice, there seems to be a new chicken sandwich being released every week, either in some newly-shaped bun or in a wrap, and according to Mintel, chicken sandwiches and other chicken selections, like those strange-looking McDonald’s Chicken McBites, are on more menus in fast-food places than burgers these days, so it seems the tides have officially changed.

Turkey burgers

And turkey burgers are being reintroduced through fast-food restaurants too, namely Burger King, since the chain released a version of its turkey burger last month, which pretty much means two things:

First, the global fast-food franchise recognizes a yearning among consumers for beef burger alternatives and second, it allows Burger King to appear a bit more health-conscious and willing to bend itself to customer wants, which is a very important reputation for companies to develop.

Burger King’s turkey burger will cost a little over $4 in most places and according to Erich Hirschhorn, who is the director of the chain’s global innovation department, turkey burgers are ending up on many fast-food menus these days and the trend will most likely continue.

“Turkey burgers as a category is growing pretty rapidly in the restaurant space,” he said.

Veggie burgers

Veggie burgers seem to be making another splash among consumers and fast-food places as well, and what was once something only the strictest of vegans would order, is now being consumed by veteran meat eaters, who will occasionally turn to veggie burgers, even giving them to their children as a healthier alternative.

Along with the turkey burger, Burger King has reintroduced a veggie burger selection as well, which isn’t the first time the restaurant tried to get the healthier sandwich to be a menu mainstay.

However this time, the chain has partnered with well-known veggie burger makers Morning Star, which could make the sandwich seem less foreign to meat-eaters and those vegetarians who would rather eat a soy-based burger from a renowned company.

And Burger King certainly isn’t the only chain that’s selling veggie burgers these days, as Bennigan’s offers a version, along with the throwback themed diner Johnny Rockets and so does Five Guys, although its burger is a bun with all of the menu’s vegetables inside rather than a garden patty.

During the course of the year, we'll see just how well Burger King’s turkey and veggie burgers will be received by consumers, but some customers would probably say the company needs to improve on its existing menu items.

Just ask Karen of Franklin, Ky., who ordered a couple of chicken sandwiches from the burger chain, and had a less than pleasing experience.

“We got two original chicken sandwiches -- one with cheese, two onion rings crispy and two drinks,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs posting.

“We sat down to eat, opened our sandwiches. There was no cheese. Bread was burnt, one dot of mayo, maybe three shreds of lettuce and onion rings were old and soggy. I took the food back up to the manager, told her it was supposed to be hot and fresh. She said it is because of the baseball team.”

Karen says there were up to 25 members of an Indiana baseball team in line before her, which was the cashier’s reason the chicken sandwiches were rushed and turned out bad. At least that’s what I think her reasoning was.

From there, things went further south.

“She grabbed it out of my hands, gave me a dirty look,” wrote Karen. “So I stood there, waiting for my food. She handed it to me. I went back to sit down, opened up my sandwich and it was the same one, only difference was they took a piece of cheese and halved it, laid it on my chicken, not even melted.”

Whether Burger King’s new sandwich offerings will hit big obviously remains to be determined, but it’s clear that consumers are expecting to see other items on fast-food menus these days, but that doesn’t mean they want to see beef hamburgers disappear completely or become a second priority for chains.

That would be a true crime to many.

Most likely, it won’t sway beef lovers to make a switch, which probably isn’t the goal of some fast-food restaurants, but the traditional hambu...
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McDonald's unwraps its "Subway Buster," the McWrap

It's the burger chain's latest entry in the healthy-eating derby

First it was Starbucks that loomed in McDonald's radar. It create McCafe line of coffee drinks to deal with that. And now McDonald's is turning its attention to Subway, unveiling a new line of McWrap sandwiches that it hopes will win over consumers hungry for a healthful lunch.  

The McWrap totals between 360 and 600 calories, depending on whether the chicken is grilled or deep fried. It also comes in Chicken & Bacon, Sweet Chili Chicken and Chicken & Ranch.

And if that's not heresy enough for you, there's also an egg white Egg McMuffin about to make its appearance.

Consumers rate McDonalds

So far McDonald's isn't saying much publicly about the new additions, but it's clearly hoping the McWrap, which includes romaine lettuce and  cucumbers as well as the choice of three sauces, will appeal to younger people who seem to award wraps more cool points than burgers smashed between buns.

Subway has been sort of eating McDonald's lunch the last several years and is by most measures the largest sandwich chain in the U.S.
First it was Starbucks that loomed in McDonald's radar. It create McCafe line of coffee drinks to deal with that. And now McDonald's is turning its attenti...
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Fast-Food places roll out new menu items

Pizza Hut, McDonald's and other chains continue to try and draw customers in

When it comes to fast-food places, it’s a pretty big deal when a restaurant makes changes, because it seems that year after year consumers are stuck with the same old menu items, décor and level of food quality -- and the only thing that ever changes is the price.

So when restaurants finally get around to actually making a change, many consumers get a little excited and head to the nearest fast-food joint to see how good or bad the new menu item really is, and this year there are a few new items that a lot of folks will be eager to check out.

Take Pizza Hut, for example, that just announced its new “Pizza Sliders” right after the Super Bowl.

The rounded miniature slices appear to be about bagel size and purchasing a box gives all who are sharing the pizza the chance to have their pie personalized.

So instead of ordering a large pizza and having different toppings on either side to appease more than one person, each person can order their own and get the exact toppings they want.

Consumers can either choose from a $10 box containing nine sliders or from a box of 3 that costs $5.

Smaller and healthier

It seems like the pizza chain is responding to the new trend of making foods smaller with fewer calories, which is a complete turnaround from the traditional fast-food approach of giving customers a lot of food for a few bucks.

With many people trying to eat healthier but still unwilling to give up fast-food completely, many chains have decreased the size of some of their menu items and are choosing to offer lower calorie options.

Panera Bread is one of these places, as the sandwich chain announced its new “Hidden Menu,” which it tested in one of its New York locations towards the end of last year.

The hidden menu items, which won’t be on the overhead menu board, consists of healthier food choices like the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey, the Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak, the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, the Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey, the Power Chicken Hummas Bowl and the Power Steak Lettuce Wraps.

The company says customers will need to notify a restaurant associate if they’re interested in ordering from the Hidden Menu, and even though Panera is considered healthier than say McDonald’s or Wendy’s, it seems the chain wants to offer even healthier items that don't include bread.

Chicken nuggets

Another franchise offering a new menu item is Burger King, which seems to always be just a little bit behind McDonald’s when it comes to generating consumer excitement about its new foods, and with its new chicken nuggets  being released, Burger King hopes that people who love McDonald's McNuggets will give Burger King's a try. 

This isn’t the first time the Florida based chain attempted to rival McDonald’s chicken McNuggets, as Burger King ‘s first version of the miniature chicken bites were closer to chicken strips, and were called chicken tenders.

However, Burger King is now offering nuggets that closely resemble McDonald’s, so instead of the company trying to offer different menu items from Mickey D’s, its trying to beat the golden arches at their own game.

“As we move into 2013, we are focused on continuing to deliver best-in-class products to our guests,” said Flavia Faugeres, global chief marketing officer for Burger King. “Our new limited-time menu options give even more delicious reasons to visit Burger King restaurants in the New Year.”

But will Burger King’s nuggets be enough to get dissatisfied customers back in to its restaurants? A good portion of our readers have been pretty displeased with the chain, after all.

“I had ordered a Double Whopper and asked that it be made as it appears on the picture on the menu board,” wrote Kelly of Washington State in a ConsumerAffair posting. “I noticed on my receipt that I was charged an extra charge for lettuce, onion and tomato of $.50.”

“To me, this is clearly misrepresentation of what you claim your product is for the price you charge.”

“I think that the combination of the hot box burger patties which are all but cold and the less than acceptable garnishments, I am just about to the point of not going back again.”

Taco Doritos

Taco Bell is also offering a new menu item, but strangely the menu item won’t be in restaurants, it will be offered in other places like in 7-Elevens, delis and corner stores.

The snack food company Frito Lay will soon roll out its Taco Bell flavored Doritos, which the company hopes will catch on like Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos, which was released almost a year ago.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Taco Bell has sold over 300 million of its Doritos Locos Tacos since its release, and Frito Lay which typically doesn’t release snack foods with fast-food chains on its packaging, hopes consumers will flock to the nacho flavored tortilla chips in the same way they flocked to the tacos.

Now whether these new food items will catch on remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that curious consumers will be heading to some of these chains to see what all of the hub-bub is about.

Whether they'll like the new menu items is another story entirely. I guess we'll see.

When it comes to fast-food places, it’s a pretty big deal when a restaurant makes changes, because it seems that year after year consumers are stuck ...
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McDonald's Sales Slump; It Rolls Out Yet Another Sandwich

Will the new Cheddar Bacon Onion sandwich be enough to win over consumers?

Believe it or not, McDonald’s isn’t doing so well.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the global franchise chain is in danger of closing up shop, or permanently shutting off its fryers--it’s just that McDonald’s hasn’t seen the type of growth lately that it's seen in the recent past, and executives are starting to fret.

McDonald’s just announced it recorded its lowest sales growth in nine years in  the third quarter, and many feel it’s just not the automatic go-to restaurant that it used to be when one wants cheap eats.

There was a time when McDonald’s was pretty untouchable when it came to owning a bulk of the fast-food market, and besides having just a few other chains like Burger King nipping at its heels, the golden arches pretty much stood out front as the first or second option when consumers thought of getting a fast and cheap meal they didn’t have to think about.

McDonald’s has also been a last resort when you can’t figure out what to eat for lunch. It’s been a restaurant of default when you’ve exhausted all of your lunch timepossibilities, and you just can’t think of anything else to eat that’s fast and nearby.

Fast casual

But several factors have made it hard for the burger chain to maintain its dominance. Fast casual restaurants have taken away a portion of business for McDonald's when consumers want an inexpensive meal, but want a healthier menu and a nicer place to dine.

And other fast-food restaurants have taken some of McDonald’s ideas, like adding a dollar menu, frequently changing food items and using celebrity endorsements--which have made Mickey D less dominant in the mind of consumers.

Many believe there are so many other fast-food options that provide more or less the same type of meal and service--and sometimes a lot better--why should they go to McDonald’s?

Cheddar Bacon Onion

For some reason McDonald’s is banking on the release of its new Cheddar Bacon Onion sandwich, which comes in both chicken and beef to help grow sales in the fourth quarter.

The new sandwich is a part of the restaurant’s growing “premium menu,” which is supposed to offset cheaper food options like the dollar menu, which some experts believe hurt McDonald’s, because more and more people are sticking with the lower-priced selections which turn over very little profit.

“We’re balancing our value messaging with premium menu news, including this month’s introduction of the Cheddar Bacon Onion Sandwich, (CBO) which is made with hickory-smoked bacon, white cheddar cheese, caramelized grilled onions and creamy mustard sauce on top of a grilled or crispy chicken patty, or our Angus beef patty,” said Don Thompson, McDonald’s CEO in a published statement.

“The CBO as we like to call it was inspired by a similar entry in Europe. This is the first time we’ve offered one sandwich with a choice of chicken or beef in the U.S. and we’ve seen that both have a high rate of extra value mill conversion and average check increase in our test markets. And in December, we’ll bring back the popular mackerel sandwich nationally. Local markets also continue to focus on beverages in an effort to generate additional consumer excitement,” he said, speaking Marketese, an odd variant of English found mainly in marketing departments. 

Cheap cream cheese

If you haven’t seen the CBO yet, it doesn’t appear to be anything special, and besides the white cheddar cheese that looks more like a cheap cream cheese you would put on a bagel, it pretty much mirrors any other sandwich the restaurant offers.

But that’s kind of what McDonald’s does. Instead of creating a completely new sandwich with different flavors, bread and seasonings--it just adds a couple of new toppings to the sandwich, rolls out a huge ad campaign and hopes consumers will get excited. 

In many ways, McDonald's is an advertising company that cranks out food as an after-thought.

One could easily say this age-old approach is what stunted McDonald’s growth in the first place. And if the restaurant doesn’t take huge steps to change some of its food options, its growth will continue to stall experts say.

Also, because the franchise chain has counted so much on its dollar menu to drive in consumer traffic, it has ignored the bigger portion of consumers who are willing to spend a little more for better quality and a wider menu variety.

A McDonald’s restaurant owner explained why his location is suffering low sales growth.

“Commodity increases along with construction project upgrades are draining whatever cash flow we might bring in,” he said in a published  interview with a news publication. 

“The Dollar Menu has limited our ability to cover these costs by raising the rest of menu prices,” he added. “This has created a huge gap between high and low-end, driving more consumers down to supposed Extra Value Menu items which have no useful upside profit potential.”

“Next year projected service cost increases are going to be a backbreaker. Just increasing transaction counts is not going to work if they are unprofitable ones. We have created a scenario of working harder for less. There needs to be a window of time to just make profits without giving them all back."

It’s doubtful the CBO will help McDonald’s that much with sales growth or trick consumers into believing that the company is really making huge efforts to change and provide better menu options.

Better service

Consumers rate McDonalds

Maybe what the restaurant should be doing is improving its customer service and doing a better job of making sure its staff and managers provide a high level of treatment and service.

Just ask Shirley of Washington State, who recently got both lousy food and service from a local McDonald's.

“I ordered a Southwestern Chicken Sandwich at McDonald’s, Belfair Wash.,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs posting. “I paid $4.12 for a bun, a piece of chicken and two thin slices of pickle. When a sandwich is advertised with all the condiments, and fresh and yummy, you should expect that. I complained and was offered to purchase some condiments.”

“That same morning, going through the drive-thru, I got two sandwiches that were so hard from sitting under the warmer that I fed them to my dog. And what about that pink slime? How long have we been eating pink slime without our knowledge?” she asked.

So it seems before McDonald’s can reclaim some if its past glory, it should start out small by providing better menu items and a consistent level of good customer service. That’s the trick to better sales. Not slathering new fixings on the same old sandwich. 

Believe it or not, McDonald’s isn’t doing so well.Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the global franchise chain is in danger of cl...
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McDonald's to Post Calories on Menu Boards

New menu boards will be placed inside and in drive-thru lanes

To help consumers make better choices about the food they eat, McDonald's will post calories for all items on its menu boards in the U.S., both inside stores and in drive-thru lanes.

The new menu boards will go up next week, the company said.

"At McDonald's, we recognize customers want to know more about the nutrition content of the food and beverages they order," said Jan Fields, President of McDonald's USA. "As a company that has provided nutrition information for more than 30 years, we are pleased to add to the ways we make nutrition information available to our customers and employees."

Improved nutritional choices

According to Fields, the move is part of the company's "Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices," announced last year. The plan aims to help customers and employees make informed nutrition choices whether visiting McDonald's or eating elsewhere.

Caloric intake is increasingly recognized as a key element in controlling weight and preventing obesity. McDonald's cited research by the International Food Information Council Foundation showing only 15 percent of Americans accurately estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight.

McDonald's has long been a target of health and nutrition advocates who say fast-food marketing has helped promote the obesity epidemic in America. The city of San Francisco went so far as to ban Happy Meals, claiming they lured children into bad eating habits with the promise of a toy.

Revamped Happy Meals

Partly to counter that, McDonald's recently revamped Happy Meal menus to include apple slices and fat-free milk. This past summer, McDonald's introduced a "Favorites Under 400" menu that highlights the calorie information for some of customers' favorite foods and beverages to help put calorie counts in better context.

The restaurant chain also announced plans to test foods that would increase the number of wholesome choices on its menu. The menu items being explored for 2013 include more recommended food groups.

Among the additions being tested for for inclusion are more season fruit and vegetables options, such as blueberries and cucumbers, during peak seasons. McDonald's says it will also offer additional produce side options and grilled chicken choices for Happy Meals.

McDonald's may be getting out in front of what it expects to be the wave of the future. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still reviewing an Obama administration proposal to require the posting of calorie data on many restaurant menus.

To help consumers make better choices about the food they eat, McDonald's said it will post calories for all items on its menu boards in the U.S., both ins...
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McDonald's Opening Vegetarian Restaurants in India

Fare to include mashed potato burgers and pizza

Can a franchise that is synonymous with the hamburger find success serving an all vegetarian fare? McDonald's is banking on it.

The U.S. fast food chain is opening two vegetarian stores in northern India, which draws many Hindu and Sikh pilgrims. The company already edits the menu of its Indian stores to account for religious sensitivities.

For example, it shuns beef and pork items that are a mainstay of its menu back home but might be offensive to Hindus and Muslims.

Instead of a Big Mac or a McRib, the new Indian restaurants will feature the McAloo Tikki burger, which really isn't a burger but a sandwich patty made from mashed potatoes. The Pizza McPuff is another new menu item, consisting of a vegetable and cheese pastry.

McDonald's operates more than 270 stores in India and most are similar to its others around the world, except that they don't serve beef or pork products. But you can get McDonald's staples like Chicken McNuggets or a fish sandwich.

While McDonald's is as American as apple pie to most U.S. consumers, the chain has increasingly become a global business in recent years. It now operates in 119 countries and serves 68 million people a day.

The new Indian vegetarian restaurants will be located in the cities of Katra and Amritsar.  

Can a franchise that is synonymous with the hamburger find success serving an all vegetarian fare? McDonald's is banking on it.The U.S. fast food chain i...
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McDonald's Skirts Happy Meal Toy Ban -- Maybe

San Francisco law bans free toys with fatty foods, so McD adds a 10-cent charge

Today's the day that, by decree of the San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors, restaurants can no longer give away toys with meals that don't meet nutrition guidelines spelled out in the law.

So does that mean no more Happy Meals?  Not the way McDonald's sees it. Beginning today, the toy that used to be free with a Happy Meal now costs ten cents, with the proceeds going to the city's Ronald McDonald House.  Burger King is doing something similar.

Can this be legal?  USA Today seems to think so.  "McD, Burger King outwit San Francisco's Happy Meal rules," the paper says. McDonald's "outwits City Hall," squeaked the San Francisco Chronicle.

Maybe, but there are quite a few attorneys out there who think the McDonald's strategy is just a little too cute and that newspapers ought to do that thing they talk about all the time -- you know, that objectivity, get-both-sides thing.

One is Michele Simon, who writes for Grist, a "green news" Website.  Simon says fast food outlets routinely manipulate the "default options" on the menu to ensure maximum sales.  Order a combo meal, for example, and it's likely to automatically come with a soda, not juice or milk.

So if McDonald's is just automatically adding ten cents to the price of a Happy Meal and assuming the parent wants the toy included, it may not pass muster in court, Simon suggests.  What's called "legislative intent" carries a lot of weight in court, after all.

Fully comply

For its part, McDonald's is arguing that it is simply protecting the God-given right of parents to fatten up their children however they choose.

"While we will fully comply with this law, we also have a responsibility to give our customers what they want," Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald's, said in a statement, "Parents have told us they'd still like the option of purchasing a toy separately for their child when they buy them a Happy Meal."

Other critics said this was just the latest in a long line of cynical ploys by McDonald's to skirt any attempt to improve the healthfulness of its food aimed at children.

"As McDonald's long has, it is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes," said Corporate Accountability International. "Currently McDonald's uses its contributions to the charity to defend the hundreds of millions it spends marketing its junk food brand to kids each year."

Relatively reasonable

Supervisor Mar

The San Francisco ordinance isn't as draconian as it's being made out to be.  It sets a few relatively reasonable nutrition guidelines -- a maximum of 600 calories and limits on fat and salt, for example -- that meals must meet if they include a free toy.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who initiated the ordinance,  dismissed the 10-cent strategy as a marketing ploy. Mar, who represents the Richmond District, is a public interest attorney who has also served on the San Francisco Board of Education.

The measure passed last year with a supermajority of the board despite heavy lobbying by McDonald's. 

“This is a tremendous victory for our children’s health. Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color,” Mar said last November. “This is 
a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment.”

Mar said at the legislation is aimed at promoting healthy eating habits and to address issues related to childhood obesity. The legislation encourages restaurants to provide healthier meal options. To provide an incentive item -- like the toys in Happy Medals -- meals must contain fruits and vegetables, not exceed 600 calories, and must not have beverages that have excessive fat or sugar.

Today's the day that, by decree of the San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors, restaurants can no longer give away toys with meals that don't m...
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McDonald's Makes Happy Meals Healthier

But will kids be happy with apple slices and fewer fries?

McDonald's is retooling its Happy Meal, reducing the number of calories it contains and adding nutritional value.

The menu item, popular with children since 1979, has become a target in recent years of health advocates worried about the rise of childhood obesity. The meal has traditionally included a small hamburger or chicken nuggets, French fries, and a toy, usually based on a popular movie.

Earlier this year, San Francisco banned meals that include toys unless they meet certain nutritional benchmarks. New York City is said to be considering a similar measure. The new Happy Meal will still contain a toy but will have fewer fries and a serving of fruit.

“McDonald’s will always try to do the right thing, and we know we can help make a difference in our communities,” said Jan Fields, president, McDonald’s USA. “The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing.” 

Calorie reduction

By March 2012, McDonald's said it will provide apples in every Happy Meal. The result, the company says, will be an estimated 20 percent reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals, also reducing fat in those meals.

“We are also exploring alternatives to the automatic apples, such as other produce or low-fat dairy items,” the company said in a statement. “In 2012, McDonald’s will also raise nutrition awareness among children and parents through national marketing initiatives. 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.”

By 2020, McDonald’s said it will reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied portion sizes, reformulations and innovations. Also, by 2015, McDonald’s will reduce sodium an average of 15 percent overall across its national menu of food choices.

Rollout begins in September

McDonald’s will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during the first quarter of 2012. 

The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald’s said it hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce. McDonald’s has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88 percent of McDonald’s customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

Under pressure from health advocates, McDonald's is making changes to its Happy Meal...
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Brazilian McDonald's Manager Wins Obesity Lawsuit

Employee said that food sampling, free lunches made him pack on 65 pounds

McDonald's has lost a high-profile obesity lawsuit, with a Brazilian court ordering the fast food giant to pay $17,500 to a former manager who says he gained 65 pounds while working at a franchise.

The employee, whose identity was not made public, said he went from around 155 to 231 pounds during his time with the company. The plaintiff said that the random presence of "mystery clients" -- who are tasked with visiting franchises and evaluating their food quality, cleanliness and customer service -- made him feel obliged to sample the food every day.

He also scolded McDonald's for offering free lunches to its employees, charging that those meals -- which consisted mostly of hamburgers, French fries and ice cream -- increased his daily caloric intake.

Follows CPSI suit

The suit is further evidence that obesity-related litigation is still going strong, despite criticism that such suits absolve consumers of the responsibility of making healthy choices. In June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) served McDonald's with noticethat it would file suit against the company unless it stopped selling its famed Happy Meals, which CSPI called "unhealthy junk food."

CSPI said that McDonald's "make[s] parents' job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising," and compared it to a "stranger in the playground handing out candy to children."

In a sharply-worded response written in July, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner said that "the public does not support [the] lawsuit," adding that "parents, in particular, strongly believe they have the right and responsibility to decide what's best for their children, not CSPI. It really is that simple."

True to its word, CPSI announced last month that it was proceeding with the suit.

Previous class actions

In 2005, McDonald's agreed to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association as part of a settlement concerning its use of trans fats in its food. It also agreed to pay $1.5 million for a public advertising campaign telling the public of the dangers posed by those fats.

And in 2008, a judge allowed a class action by consumers who alleged that McDonald's food made them obese to proceed, overturning a lower court's dismissal of the case. That action, Pelman v. McDonald's, alleged that "certain [McDonald's] foods [are] substantially less healthy than represented."

The lead plaintiffs in that case, Ashley Pelman and Jazlyn Bradley, both minors, brought suit on behalf of all consumers who bought and ate McDonald's food from franchises in New York. Their suit alleged that the food increased consumers' chances of developing "obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol intake, and/or other detrimental and adverse health effects and/or diseases."

McDonald's is considering whether to appeal the Brazilian ruling, which was issued by Judge Joao Ghisleni Filho in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil. In a statement, the company stressed that it "offers a large variety of options and balanced menus to cater [to] the daily dietary needs of its employees."

Perhaps the plaintiff should have spent more time taste-testing the salads.

Brazilian McDonald's Manager Wins Obesity LawsuitEmployee said that food sampling, free lunches made him pack on 65 pounds...
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McDonald's At the Bottom of Consumer Reports Burger Ratings

In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys Burgers and Fries top survey of magazine's subscribers

McDonald's may have served billions of burgers, but according to a recent survey of 28,000 Consumer Reports'subscribers, they fall at the bottom of the list among fast-food restaurants. Among the standouts were In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

"In this case, the bigger-name burger wasn't better" said Tod Marks, Senior Project Editor for CR. "The Five Guys patty was more flavorful, juicy and meaty tasting."

The magazine recently polled 28,000 online subscribers and asked them to rate the burgers they had eaten on their last visit on a scale of 1 to 10 -- from least delicious burger ever eaten to most. Eighteen fast-food restaurants across the country were rated.

Although other popular fast-food chains such as Wendy's and Burger King fared better than McDonald's, they scored far worse than the highest-rated chains. Other fast-food frontrunners noted for their delicious burgers included Fuddruckers, Burgerville and Back Yard Burgers.

On-scene ratings

In addition to conducting the survey, Consumer Reports sent a reporter to make an informal comparison of the fare at Five Guys and McDonald's (he couldn't get his hands on an In-N-Out Burger).

Five Guys basic burger of two 3.3-ounce griddled patties on a lightly browned sesame seed bun was bigger and beefier came with a $5 price tag and offered 15 free toppings choices. McDonald's $1-burger -- a 3.5 ounce patty with pickle slices, bits of raw onion, and a dab of ketchup and mustard on a lightly browned bun -- tasted mild and more greasy than beefy with the major flavor coming from the toppings, in the opinion of the CR reporter.

Attitude

It isn't just the quality of the food that can have an effect on the consumer. Corrine of Spring Hill, FL, tells ConsumerAffairs.com of an interesting incident involving a local McDonald's.

"I waited in line in their lobby for about a minute and a-half and was very impressed with their speed of service. I placed my order and got it all in about thirty seconds. The crewmember was very polite and I didn't have any complaints what-so-ever. I was shocked, I thought I would offer some compliments, and I asked the crewmember if I could speak to a manager." Then, she says, things started to go downhill.

"The manager comes up to me and says, 'What?' -- but with the tone as if I were a piece of scum. I told her that her employee was polite and that I was very impressed with the store and the manager said, 'Yep and I suppose you want something for free, don't you?' "

The result, says Corrine, "I bypass this McDonald's now because several times after this happened, I will come in and hear the manager say, 'Here comes that *****' or she'll say something snide."

McDonald's At the Bottom of Consumer Reports Burger Ratings...
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Food Fight: McDonald's Takes On Critics


Under increasing attack for the caloric content of its products, McDonald's is dishing it back at its critics. In a speech to shareholders, company CEO Jim Skinner said the recent books and movies about the company's food are "fiction."

"These days, big equals bad to some people," Skinner said.

The 2001 book "Fast Food Nation" issued a scathing review of the health benefits of McDonald's food.

That was followed a few years later by the movie "Supersize Me," in which an independent filmmaker documented the effects of eating nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days. Now critics are publishing a children's book about fast food and Fast Food Nation is being made into a movie.

Skinner says it's unfair, piling on.

"Fictitious information irresponsibly published and reported in the media has people questioning the quality and safety of fast food in general," he said.

Skinner maintains that his company has led the way in food safety and has worked over the years to improve the product.

If that weren't enough, he says McDonald's has been a leader in employment opportunity, charitable giving, and has even gone out of its way to promote animal welfare and the environment.

McDonald's has come under fire, along with other fast food chains, as America's obesity problem has mushroomed.

While critics blame the high fat content of burgers, chicken and fries, McDonald's counters that it offers plenty of healthy food too. Skinner repeated his vow to do a better job in telling what he sees as the company's positive story.



Food Fight: McDonald's Takes On Critics...
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Disney Dumps McDonald's

Meals Won't Be As Happy


Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are going their separate ways. After a ten year joint marketing agreement, Walt Disney Company said it will not renew its arrangement with McDonald's to provide promotional figurines for the restaurant chain's Happy Meals.

The last Disney Happy Meal promotion will be this summer, with the release of "Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

Disney isn't giving a specific reason for the breakup, but the Los Angeles Times quotes a number of high-ranking company sources as saying Disney would like to put some distance between itself and McDonald's menu offerings, increasingly being blamed for obesity.

The Times also quotes a source at rival studio DreamWorks as saying studio executives are having second thoughts about a deal with McDonald's to promote "Shrek 3," set for release next year. Shrek is, after all, a little on the hefty side.

McDonald's, feeling the heat from nutrition advocates, recently launched a campaign to educate its customers about healthy food choices.

Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation," told the Times that McDonald's has it within its power to reduce the flak it's receiving. "The obesity issue would be irrelevant if the food in the Happy Meals was healthy," he said.



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McDonald's Prepares to Fire Back at Critics

Get ready for a public relations war as intense as any ever waged by competing spinmeisters in the political arena

Get ready for a public relations war as intense as any ever waged by competing spinmeisters in the political arena. McDonald's is girding up to do battle with its critics, hoping to deflect mounting criticism of the healthfulness of its food.

Over at Wendy's, the chairman-CEO has stepped down after 18 months of sales declines and unrest among franchisees.

McDonald's took a pounding in popular culture with the release of the movie "Supersize Me," in which an independent film maker lived only on McDonalds food for a month and nearly wrecked his health. Next month could bring another blast, as Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation," releases a new book targeted at teens, "Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food." A movie based on Schlosser's first book is set for release by the end of the year.

"We need to do a better job telling our story," said McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner.

Skinner has announced a global effort to promote what he sees as the positive aspects of the chain. He says McDonald's has become a target in recent years simply because of its size and dominance in the industry.

The company is also trying to prepare its franchisees for the coming storm. It says the upcoming book and movie will provide pressure at a time when many are trying to make the fast food industry responsible for the rise in obesity among the U.S. population, especially among children.

McDonald's says it provides plenty of healthy choices on its menu, but it's up to consumers to exercise the right choices. The company said its promotional campaign will attempt to educate consumers about nutrition and encourage them to make the right choices.

Still, that's unlikely to mollify McDonald's critics. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed the company sells healthier french fries and chicken strips in Europe than in the U.S.

Wendy's Wobbling

McDonald's problem is basically that it's too successful, whereas Wendy's is suffering from sinking sales and a potential uprising among its franchisees, leading John "Jack" Schuessler, 55, to turn off the grill and head for the beach after 30 years with the burger chain.

"I am proud to have been part of Wendy's for three decades... I believe it is the appropriate time to pass the leadership of the brand to the next generation of leaders," Schuessler said. His resignation came just 10 days before the annual shareholders meeting.

"With the company focusing on new strategies and opportunities Jack and the board decided that it was time for new leadership," a Wendy's spokesman said.

There's been a schism among the franchisees, a number of whom have seceded and formed an independent association representing 13 percent of the chain's stores.

Besides slow burger sales, Wendy's has been having problems with its Tim Horton's doughnut chain and the Baja Fresh chain.



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