A Tough Sell: McDonald’s Targets Moms

Excerpted from Washington Post, “McDonald’s Courts Moms As Fast-Food Emissaries: Chain Enlists Its Toughest Customers to Talk Up Menu’s Healthful Side “, by Michael S. Rosenwald, November 20, 2008

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The only obstacle between kids and their french fries: Mom.  “They are probably one of the most victimized foods,” says McDonald’s nutrition director.

Plausible reason: A medium order of fries at McDonald’s, besides the delectable taste, includes 380 calories, 270 milligrams of sodium and a color preservative called sodium acid pyrophosphate. But McDonalds points out that fries are rich in potassium and are “a really good source of fiber.”

One mom replies, “Once you throw them in grease, you kind of ruin it.”

Another says, “Potassium is good in bananas.”

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But McDonald’s thinks it has a positive case to make and has recruited mothers to go behind the scenes of the company’s operations, meet senior executives and then communicate what they see via the Web, along with appearing in video of their travels.

The idea behind the company’s Quality Correspondents program: If McDonald’s can win over moms by showcasing food quality (the eggs in Egg McMuffins are real) and highlighting healthful options, the company can brighten its image at a crucial time in the arc of the fast-food industry. Customers, bombarded with news about food recalls, are paying more attention to safety, quality and ingredients — despite still not wanting to wait very long for their lunch. The message takes on heightened importance now, as strapped parents bargain in their heads over whether a McDonald’s meal can take the place of higher-priced options.

McDonald’s executives are betting that if they can shatter myths about the company’s food — a slaughterhouse visit shows chickens being handled humanely but also proves McNuggets contain chicken — and display an obsessiveness with food safety and quality to a select group of moms, the message will trickle through society.

“When people are asked to define who they trust and who they believe, the answer is people like themselves, not journalists and not academics.”

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