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06 July 2021
How McDonald’s is navigating political, menu pressures
Corporate social responsibilityHealth & well-beingRestaurants & takeaways
McDonald’s, long-associated in many people’s minds with unhealthy junk food, may be facing pressures on a number of key fronts – pressure to raise staff wages, be more outspoken on political issues of the moment, sort out what some critics say is systemic discrimination, adapt to the pandemic, and, of course, to offer healthier menu options. Solving these issues will define its future
But, says McDonald’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, despite it all, business is great – in fact, Kempczinski told The New York Times, US franchises have “never been in better financial shape than they are now. The average franchisee in the US is going to have record cash flow in 2021.”
And when it comes to losing the unhealthy junk-food image, Kempczinski believes, ultimately, the customer must call the shots, not the restaurant chain – despite the pressures.
The McDonald’s menu is “very Darwinian”, says Kempczinski. What goes on the menu is what customers are looking to buy. “We do have healthier choices on the menu. And we have more indulgent choices on the menu. Ultimately, we leave it to the customer to make those choices. But what is crucial, he says, is to be 100% transparent on nutritional information. “We do try to do things, for example, particularly as it relates to marketing to kids, to promote healthier choices. We do try to nudge from a little behavioural economics standpoint to better-for-you choices.”
Plant-based alternatives to the classic meat patty is an area in which the company is making significant investments. Plant-based alternatives are currently more expensive than traditional protein sources, such as beef and chicken, says Kempczinski, but he adds that the company is making it a focus to ensure plant-based products don’t carry a price premium – “We don’t see someone choosing to go with a hamburger versus a plant-based burger because of price,” says Kempczinski.
The chief executive’s comments come as pressure mounts on governments in many parts of the world to act on high rates of obesity, especially among children. In the UK, the government says by the end of 2022, a 9pm TV and on-demand advertising watershed will be brought in for all high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products, plus restrictions on paid-for HFSS ads online. Brand-only advertising, however, will be exempt from the changes.
“The reality is that [restricting menus to only healthy options is] not going to force people to make the right choices. That’s just going to drive them to go in a different direction. They’re just not going to come to your restaurant. They’re going to go somewhere else. These things have to be done also at the pace that a customer is willing to be nudged.” McDonald’s Chief Executive Chris Kempczinski