McDonald's Pushes Back Against Critics of Upgraded Happy Meals

Sunday, 13 Oct 2013 05:59 PM

By john Morgan

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McDonald’s says it is adding 20 million books to its Happy Meals, but one consumer advocacy group said the massive effort is simply a tactic to sell unhealthy food to children.

ABC News noted the fast food giant has been aggressively trying to change its image, including offering more fruits and vegetables on the menu, but that advocacy group Corporate Accountability International is having none of it.

“By associating the brand with a message of healthy eating, it’s tricking kids and parents into thinking that McDonald’s has their best interests in mind,” said Sara Deon, the advocacy group’s “Value the Meal” campaign director.

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"This move is clearly a reaction to growing pressure from parents and health professionals around the impact its marketing is having on kids – driving an epidemic of diet-related disease.”

McDonald’s
has enlisted its own nonprofit group in support of the free book distribution effort. In a statement, McDonald’s said it is collaborating with Reading is Fundamental, which it described as the largest children’s literacy non-profit in the U.S., to distribute some of the books.

BusinessWeek said virulent opponents of McDonald’s apparently regard Happy Meals as the “gateway drug to the fast-food chain,” but noted the company has tapered the size of the fries, added apple slices, and is offering low-fat milk as a drink alternative.

NPR.org reported the four children’s book titles from McDonald's, apparently created by advertising firm Leo Burnett, include characters such as a “voracious goat that struggles to eat right and a diminutive dinosaur that grows tall with good nutrition.”

In a highly critical piece on Huffington Post, columnist Michele Simon claimed the move to put more healthy food in Happy Meals could be thwarted by the company’s many independent franchisees, who apparently have a good deal of control on menu pricing.

“More than any other food corporation, McDonald's has a long history of deceiving the public with empty promises, often resulting in legal action,” Simon wrote.

But McDonald's sticking with its promotion, which also includes an e-book component, for the time being.

Ubong Ituen, vice president of marketing for McDonald’s USA, said, “This is the latest step in our ongoing efforts to enrich the lives of families, and part of a broader book strategy that will combine the fun of the Happy Meal, new partners and technology to inspire more family reading time.”

Editor’s Note: New Video Exposes a ‘Great Retirement Heist’

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