The irresponsible, misleading giant of the fast food industry has encountered an opponent to its massive growth. Opposed to their usual trend, McDonald’s sales fall 3.5% at the closing of this quarter and even though they are trying to blame it on direct competition from other fast food chains, the truth is a good part of it is customer awareness. Slowly but surely, more and more people are becoming aware of the awful quality and health consequences of this kind of food if you can actually call it that.
CEO Don Thompson blamed the economy for the fast food giant’s lackluster performance, pointing to “the external environment including declining consumer sentiment, high commodity and labor costs and heightened competitive activity.” Translation? Between the rising price of food (thank you, climate change), growing consumer awareness of McDonald’s bad business practices, and competition from the likes of Taco Bell, McDonald’s was having trouble maintaining its normally high rate of growth. Thompson said the company would respond by promoting its Dollar Menu and bringing back the shockingly unhealthy McRib in December, as a way to show the “value” of eating at McDonald’s. But Thompson is either missing the point or playing dumb.A brief review of the company’s 10-K, the annual, SEC-required company report card, filed in February of this year, reveals a number of “risk factors” identified by the company, including concerns over “adverse perceptions” of “nutritional content… how we source the commodities we use… [and] product safety issues,” as well as the “impact of social media,” “the risks and cost of our labeling and other disclosure practices,” and “the impact of nutritional, health and other scientific inquiries and conclusions.” The company knows, then, that the public is growing less tolerant of CAFOs, unhealthy food, and large-scale corporate deception about its practices. But despite recognition of these systemic issues, judging by Friday’s announcement and several of the company’s recent PR projects – e.g. enlisting mommy bloggers and releasing pseudo farm-to-table YouTube videos – McDonald’s still seems to believe they have a “public perception” problem and not a reason to make substantial changes to its practices. Yet in a country where more and more people are making the choice to buy responsibly-sourced, organic products despite their higher prices (organics sales rose 9.4 percent in 2011), Thompson’s equation of “value” with cheapness might just fall short.