Friday, June 29

Guessing Intentions: Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's

As reported by the Associated Press, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are all balking at New York City's new rule that will require them to post calories on menus. Taco Bell and KFC won't talk.

"They are afraid that when people see these eye-popping calorie numbers, they might switch to a smaller size," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, told the AP. "They feel it is going to hurt sales."

Jacobson's answer likely comes from a question I usually advise our clients not to play along with. While the wording might be off, it's a good guess the AP reporter asked "Why do you think Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are afraid to post the calories?"

Speculation can be a dangerous game, even if you are an advocate of the new rule that covers some 2,000 New York City eateries. More likely, the only reason three chains are taking a harder stand is because the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule in court, the city said it won't fine anyone until October, and the "calorie counts" are required to be the same size as the price.

While this story appeared on SpinThicket as a PR Nightmare, I'm wondering if it isn't just good old-fashioned spin and not on the part of the quick service industry (that's the PC term for fast food. Ha!).

True, quick service is not the most nutritional choice for lunch (neither is what most of our children are served for school lunch). But also true is that, sometimes, elected officials overreach in creating regulations that are meant to "protect us from ourselves" because, frankly, it looks bad to serve a term in office without making something up. I think this might apply.

What New York City has going for it is perception: hamburgers are somehow evil. What it has going against it is reality: adults don't need to feel guilty about their choices.

Besides, most of this information is available anyway. As Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's, told the AP, Wendy's has made this information available for 30 years. Indeed, it's been a unique selling point on more than one occasion.

Hmmm ... sometimes business has a tendency to set industry standards without an assist from government. So if Subway, KFC, and Wendy's haven't been able to cut into competitor sales on the selling point they have lower calorie choices by now, then I doubt very much city government regulations will either.



Sweet Tea on 6/29/07, 1:11 PM said...

"protect us from ourselves"
I've never known why govt. thinks that's necessary in so many cases. Don't consumers have any sense? If I want McDonald's then no list of calories is going to stop me. If I'm a calorie counter I wouldn't go to McDonald's in the first place. Does the govt. think I'll become a calorie counter if I see how many calories are in a Big Mac? Get a grip and focus on something worthwhile.
Great article.

Rich on 6/29/07, 3:05 PM said...

Hey JS,

Here is an idea... maybe New York City could reallocate some funding specifically to improve school lunches for children.

The ave. elementary school lunch is about 821 calories and about 30 percent fat. A Big Mac, by comparison, is 704 calories and about 67 percent daily fat. Not a whole lot of difference, just more fat. (Okay, so you buy some fries too.)

The other difference? Most kids have to eat the lunch. No adults have to eat at McDonald's.

The lesson for today is education before regulation:

Sweet Tea on 6/29/07, 3:28 PM said...

Amen to that!

Scott Baradell on 6/29/07, 10:25 PM said...

"Don't consumers have any sense?"

Maybe if they did, we wouldn't be the fattest country in the world.

Of course, in the defense of consumers, many families today don't have the time to prepare "Leave it to Beaver" dinners or the money to afford a decent restaurant, so forcing fast food to clean up its act is probably not such a bad thing.

Rich on 6/30/07, 10:44 AM said...

Very funny Scott. Or tragic. I'm not sure which, maybe both.

Las Vegas happens to be one of top ranked fattest cities in nation, the product of exactly what you've noted. With heavy swing shifts and an abundance of service workers, our city eats on the go (and is always going, going).

You also touch on one of other points though. Forcing businesses to post calories isn't going to make a bit of difference. When I was a teen, I worked at Wendy's when it did push lighter food options. Inevitably, every hour or so, someone would come in, order a triple cheese and large fries. Then, they would remember their "diet" and add a Diet Pepsi and salad bar to "feel" better.

The number one item to restock on the salad bar was almost always bacon bits. So, in sum, you can lead them to salad, but can't force them to think.


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