If you're looking for any sign that things are indeed changing (for the better, that is) in our complicated corporate-dominant food world (even despite the failure of California's Proposition 37 earlier this month), look no further than Ronald McDonald himself.
The definitive fast food giant recently announced a significant sales slump. According to the company, sales rose less than 2 percent for the first time in nearly a decade, and net income is down close to 4 percent. Not just here in the U.S. where efforts across the country are underway to encourage healthier eating habits —but sales are slowing around the world, too, in some of McDonald's newest markets where the chain is perceived often as the pinnacle of Western development, a status meal of sorts, if there really is such a thing.
Despite the chain's unimaginably cheap menu items (not just on the dollar menu, either)—CEO Don Thompson looked to the sluggish global economy for the drop in revenues, “the external environment including declining consumer sentiment, high commodity and labor costs and heightened competitive activity,” as reported by Grist.
And while economic factors may play a role in consumers looking elsewhere—even despite the unbeatable prices of the Dollar Menu—Grist also reported that the company's SEC-required scorecard revealed eyebrow-raising "risk factors" including "adverse perceptions" of things like the nutritional content of the menu items, concerns over ingredient sourcing, and product safety issues as well.
Whether or not consumers are skipping the Golden Arches to save money or they're patronizing other restaurants out of taste preference or ditching the Happy Meals out of concerns over the company's way of doing business, McDonald's seems more keen on calling it a simple "public perception" problem, which they're planning on addressing with marketing gimmicks rather than making substantial changes to the business (notwithstanding the recent announcement that it would require its suppliers to begin moving away from gestation crates used to keep pregnant sows confined).
Deena Shanker writes in Grist, "When the company required its pork suppliers to phase out gestation crates in February, for example, it essentially required all pork suppliers to do so, because not being able to sell to McDonald’s will kill a large-scale pork operation in this country."
And, according to Shanker, the opportunity to make real, lasting image improvements doesn't stop there, "As the single biggest purchaser of beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, apples, and tomatoes in this country, McDonald’s plays an unparalleled role in the food industry. "
Like Wal-Mart, McDonald's purchasing power changes the game for the entire fast food segment, "If McDonald’s wants to change public perception and increase sales, why not stick to this pattern of catering to public demands, and start with better ingredients and more transparency? The company might be surprised by how far that gets it."
Certainly it's probably still ridiculous to imagine walking into a McDonald's for a truly healthy, low-calorie/high nutrient density meal made from local, sustainably grown produce and ethically-sourced animal products all delivered in low-impact eco packaging…that might be decades or centuries in the making, if ever. But perhaps the bigger question is, even if McDonald's does make these significant changes, can we ever move forward and support them, or will the deep-fried-saturated-fat legacy forever keep McDonald's as King of the Unhappy Meal?Learn more about Jill Ettingerhttp://grist.org/food/fallen-arches-mcdonalds-sales-slump-blamed-on-food-costs-smarter-customers/rn"