A CRISPY green Caesar salad (with grilled chicken, crispy chicken or no chicken) entrée and a green apple for dessert.
Sounds like a meal, fit for a grazer, from an organic restaurant. But, surprise – it’s a meal option from that ultimate global icon of burgers and fries: McDonald’s.
The Golden Arches is offering new salads across Europe, deli choices in Australia, premium grilled sandwiches in the United States, and new beverages in Latin America.
Welcome to the new fast-food revolution. Nudged by consumer group pressure, more health-conscious customers or downright bad publicity – or a combination of all – the giants of the industry have been re-inventing themselves.
For a global player, McDonald’s has proved surprisingly nimble, at least over the past year, pushing a healthy menu to consumers and media. It’s no longer all about burgers and fries.
The change is not only in the food, but even in the dashing new look of McRestaurants and community-related programmes.
This was emphasised to a 34-member media delegation that visited the corporation’s headquarters in Oak Brook, just outside Chicago recently for the McDonald’s International Media Week.
Said McDonald’s chief executive officer Jim Skinner: “We are committed to offering menu choice and variety to our customers, promoting physical activity and providing nutritional information.
“Last year, we introduced a whole new range of food and beverage items on our menu around the world.”
Big on choice
But old-fashioned fast-food junkies don’t have to fear withdrawal symptoms – yet. Staples such as the Big Mac, McChicken, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder and Double Quarter Pounder, Chicken McNuggets – remain McDonald’s core products.
To wash that down, there are not only standard fizzy drinks, but also energy drinks, fruit juices and even lowfat milk.
Choices – and customer base for the brand – are further expanded with salads, sandwiches, fruit and yoghurt.
The brand will also roll out a checklist of nutrition information on its restaurant and packaging material later this year.
McDonald’s claims to be ahead of the pack, driven by the demands for such food labelling from consumer groups and the American government.
The burning question is, naturally, whether the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables is a response to bad publicity the fast food chain has been faced with.
The first hit came from journalist/author Eric Schlosser, whose book Fast Food Nation exposed unpleasant truths about the practices of the fast food industry, especially focusing on its sanitary conditions and treatment of workers.
The second, was more personal – a documentary by Morgan Spurlock titled Super Size Me. The documentary singled out McDonald’s to prove how unhealthy fast food is. Spurlock, who for one month ate and drank only McDonald’s, wanted to show that fast food was not only detrimental to general health but also a major cause of obesity among Americans.
So, is the healthy menu – which McDonald’s admits accounts for only a token amount of its sales – an effort to mend the chain’s image amidst such controversy? Or a cunning strategy to cater to an increasingly health-conscious society?
Skinner and his team deny that the healthy add-ons are the consequence of the flak that has hit them.
“We have not been adversely affected by the documentary,’’ he insisted.
“Rather, our guest count has improved globally and our profits have also increased worldwide.’’
He claims that their customers are mature enough to weigh the content of Spurlock’s documentary and decide whether or not it was realistic or extreme.
“I am confident that a person can eat three meals a day at McDonald’s and still maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle if they make responsible choices.
“In fact, there have been people who have gone on a 30-day McDonald’s only diet and have lost weight!” said Skinner.
Ronald gets active too
In Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine, young children interviewed recognised Ronald McDonald but not Jesus!
While this may not be representative of kids everywhere, it is indicative of the iconic stature of Ronald McDonald, who has evolved over the past 50 years or so.
Now, the McDonald’s “chief happiness officer”, is also an ambassador for physical activity through the McDonald’s Go Active initiative. As part of the initiative, the fast food chain introduced special adult Happy Meals (only in their US restaurants) which included Stepometers or small step counters to motivate users to increase their daily walking. As of last year, about 30 million Stepometers were given out.
The Mcfitness campaign got a boost when they recruited personal trainer Bob Greene (who shot to fame for whipping Oprah Winfrey into shape) on the Go Active initiative as well. Green lead walks and bike trips across the United States while offering tips on balanced and active lifestyles to thousands.
More recently, the corporation has, as sponsor of championship soccer events such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro, initiated the Player Escort Programme through which 1,408 children from all over the world will get the chance to escort some of the best and most popular players onto the pitch for each match.
No salad for Malaysia?
But, the only way we are ever going to taste these healthy options, be it the salads, fruits or even sandwiches, is to visit a McDonald’s abroad!
The healthy options we have here are the Grilled Chicken Foldover and the McChicken Porridge (Bubur Ayam McDs).
In Hong Kong, customers have a wide variety of healthy meals – varieties of salads, soups, grilled sandwiches, corn (as an alternative to fries) and yoghurt.
There is even more choice in Singapore – customers can axe the fizzy drinks for healthier drinks like Iced Milo, lemon lime juice or milk. Singapore also has McCafé outlets – coffee bistros (ala Starbucks) that serve gourmet coffees and pastries.
“There are definitely more exciting things to come Malaysia’s way. So far, we have determined that our customers in Malaysia like their food with a little more spice. As a result, the chicken burgers and the fried chicken (which incidentally is only available in Malaysia) are spicier than elsewhere. The porridge, which is unique to Malaysia, is also very popular among Malaysians.
“Soon, we will be introducing the rice burgers which were launched in Taiwan not too long ago.
“And, come May, when we open our Food Studio in Hong Kong, we will be testing innovations to our menus in Asia,” said Tim Fenton, President of McDonald’s, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (Apmea).
McDonald’s currently has two food studios – in Paris and Chicago. The third one in Hong Kong is scheduled to open later this year. The role of these food studios is to enable product development and innovation.
“By opening a food studio in Hong Kong, this region will have a group of experts dedicated to developing products for the Asian palate,” said Fenton.