April 12, 2017
McDonald’s, the fast food icon associated with obesity, diabetes, clogged arteries, and all things sugary, fatty, and generally unhealthy, has made a great effort in the past decade to (literally) degrease their image. These changes were the result of McDonald’s responding to critiques of the nutritional value of their meals and exploitative labor practices, along with social uproar over the company’s lack of transparency regarding its ingredients, food safety, and production practices. With consumers filing lawsuits against McDonald’s starting in the early 2000s, claiming that the fast food chain made them overweight or even obese, McDonald’s realized quickly that it needed a branding persona overhaul. Following the release of journalist Eric Schlosser’s sharply critical book, Fast Food Nation, in 2000, McDonald’s reacted by launching its “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign in 2003, which showcased the fresh quality of McDonald’s ingredients. Nutritional information was made available to the public, and salads and fresh fruit options were added to the menu, but, as a report from 2016 shows, the majority of McDonald’s profits still came from the sale of menu mainstays like cheeseburgers and French fries. Still, greater transparency meant that at least people now knew what they were getting into when sinking their teeth into a Big Mac.
Did you want fries with that?
After the release of the documentary, Super Size Me, in 2004, McDonald’s again made a push towards altering its reputation for “bad” ingredients and poor quality food. Reacting to the bad press generated by the film, which proved the obvious point that eating McDonald’s (or any fast food) contributed to a number of health concerns, McDonald’s removed the “super size” option from its menu. Ingredient transparency and sourcing were the highlights of their 2008 “What We’re Made Of” rebranding campaign:
Today, McDonald’s continues to try to reinvent itself in a healthier light, and a portion of their website is dedicated to proving the company’s credibility on social and ecological levels:
“From the start, we’ve been committed to doing the right thing. And everyday, all around the globe, we put people, processes and practices into place to make quality food, more responsible sourcing choices, a stronger community and a better planet.”
Corporate and social responsibility reports are readily available on their website as well, which encourages customer trust in the brand.
Most recently, McDonald’s has released its global sustainability goals for 2020. While McDonald’s efforts towards rebranding itself by being more transparent with ingredients and sourcing, and showcasing more sustainability are admirable, it may be that too much damage has already been done in the minds of consumers, who are seeking more healthy alternatives. As such, McDonald’s will likely continue to be afflicted with the stigma of unhealthy junk food. However, with sales continuing to escalate exponentially, people will probably still consume their products regardless. This is especially true as McDonald’s continues to expand into new markets worldwide, catering to cultural dietary requirements by offering kosher and Halal options in the Middle East, as well as non-beef alternatives in India, for example. McDonald’s willingness to adapt and change to customer demands, especially in the realm of “healthier” options and shifting gears towards a future sustainable business model, means that the company is basically guaranteed to continue on its trajectory of success for some time.