Editor's Plate: Changing One Mind at a Time

Nov. 6, 2014
McDonald's has undertaken a bold experiment in transparency and dialog with consumers.

McDonald’s has started a bold, perhaps risky, campaign on TV and in social media that meets head-on the suspicions about its food products. It may create lessons that all food and beverage processors should take to heart.

“Our Food, Your Questions” I think is the overall name for this effort. McDonald’s is asking people, especially skeptics, to submit questions via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media. McDonald’s will respond on the web, in social media and I assume on TV about how the company’s food is created.

I think the campaign just started in October. So far on TV I’ve only seen apparent actors posing some reasonably hard questions that go unanswered. But I’m told this is only meant to elicit queries from real consumers and that the answers will come.

One of the best pieces of the project is a five-minute video, apparently produced by Time magazine with McDonald’s assistance. The previous time the seasonal McRib was introduced, Wes Bellamy, a teacher from Charlottesville, Va., retweeted a photo of the patties in their frozen state, which look like a tire tread. He encouraged people to not eat it or anything from McDonald’s – even though he had never tried a McRib.

McDonald’s flew Bellamy and Grant Imahara of the TV show Mythbusters (who also was fearful of the McRib) to a Lopez Foods plant in Oklahoma City to see how the McRib is made. (BTW, Kevin Nanke, a Ph.D. and vice president at Lopez, provides an Oscar-worthy performance.)

Bellamy and Imahara dug deep into the vat of boneless pork picnics (apparently looking for the hidden dog or horse meat), saw the pork being ground and seasoned with just four ingredients (water, salt, a sugar compound and preservatives to “lock in the flavor”) and then saw the forming and cooking processes. At the end, the frozen patties do resemble the tire tread Bellamy had seen months before. But when they tasted the finished product as it would be made in a McDonald’s – the first time for both men – they both loved it.

It’s scary to open your company up this way. But the Cone of Silence the food and beverage industry has kept around itself for so long has only created suspicion. The only way to turn around the skepticism held by many consumers is to be open and create this kind of honest dialog with them.

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