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In the face of such events, McDonald’s has not stood idly by, especially once profits looked to be at risk. Not only were activists and governments focusing more attention on healthier food choices, customer preferences were also clearly changing. The chain launched a substantial turnaround strategy in 2003 where, to many people’s surprise, the firm dropped its supersizing options, and put a range of new healthy options on the menu, including salads and grilled chicken flatbreads, oatmeal for breakfast, and even the opportunity for concerned parents to replace fries with carrot sticks and fruit in the ubiquitous children’s ‘happy meals’. Advertising campaigns emphasizing the firm’s fresh and healthy new approach accompanied the menu changes and extended in-store and online nutritional labelling also followed—moves once vigorously resisted by the company. Beyond its own stores, McDonald’s has also launched a swathe of exercise and sports initiatives especially targeted at young people. Promoted under the theme of ‘balanced lifestyles’, the company has sought to show young people the two sides to a healthy lifestyle—a balanced diet and exercise. McDonald’s websites in countries across Europe began including sports sections in addition to the usual information about stores and menus, and these have now become a standard feature on national websites. For instance, since 2007 McDonald’s Germany has partnered with DFB, the German football association, in a programme to provide soccer badge clubs for children and young people, which has reached more than a million participants. Such developments have met with considerable scepticism from some of the company’s critics. This has especially been the case when it has been revealed that some of the firm’s new menu items, such as particular salads or oatmeal flavours, have more fat and calories than the much-maligned hamburger. However, to this and many other criticisms the company has typically been quick to respond with rebuttals or further refinements in the menu. For example, the firm further refined its Happy Meals formula in US stores in 2012 by reducing the quantity of fries and automatically adding apples. Over time it has become clear that the shifts under way at McDonald’s are part of a long-term strategic realignment towards the changing societal values and expectations it is facing. This was further emphasized by a commitment to serve Rainforest Alliance-certified sustainably grown coffee in its restaurants, which is now in place in much of Europe and in Australia and New Zealand, as well as some coffee options in the US. In 2013, the company also announced that it would be the first US chain to label all of its fish products with the widely accepted Marine Stewardship Council sustainable fish logo, and subsequently announced that it would next start purchasing verified sustainable beef in 2016. Surprising to many has also been the firm’s gradual embracing of greater transparency, such as through its ‘Open for Discussion’ blog about sustainability and the ‘Our Food. Your Questions’ initiative that was launched in Canada in 2012. The ‘Our Food. Your Questions’ campaign allows people to submit any kind of questions about McDonald’s food to a dedicated website, which it then commits to post online and answer in an open and honest manner. The campaign is an explicit attempt by the company to dispel what it regards as myths about its food, and inform the public better about its products, because as its website acknowledges, ‘we haven’t always done a great job of answering Introducing Business Ethics 41 questions’. The campaign was hugely successful in Canada, generating thousands of questions, millions of views, and billions of social impressions, as well as garnering multiple industry awards. In 2013, McDonald’s Australia went one step further with a ‘Track my Macca’s’ app that enables consumers to scan their burger’s container to discover the source of the food and where it was processed. In most respects, McDonald’s strategy appears to have been a success. Trust in the brand has improved in the face of campaigns such as ‘Our Food. Your Questions’, and because the menu is healthier, families have a greater opportunity to provide their children with a more balanced meal under the golden arches. Even the firm’s fiercest critics seem to have lost some of their momentum in the firm’s heartlands in North America and Europe.


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