McDonalds hunt of perfect fries overpromising

Written by Bloomberg | Updated: Apr 10 2012, 05:50am hrs
Biting into a McDonalds French fry should be like walking on freshly fallen snow. Barbara Booth, the companys director of sensory science, was presiding over the fast-food giants semi-annual French Fry Evaluation a contest among McCain Foods, ConAgra Foodss Lamb Weston and JR Simplot to cook perfect versions of McDonalds World Famous Fries.

Close your eyes, Booth told the three executives and 11 supplier representatives as they sniffed, sampled and spit fries in a ritual akin to tasting a Napa Valley Pinot. If you cant tell what youre eating in three seconds, theres a problem.

As chains such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger attract diners looking for a better burger, McDonalds is more than ever focused on the quality of its food. And in an age of 24-7 social media and hyper-informed consumers, the worlds largest burger chain is being forced to open up about the provenance of its beef, potatoes and more.

In January, McDonalds began featuring online homages to its suppliers. In one Supplier Story video, Frank Martinez, who farms about 1,000 acres of potatoes (400 hectares) in Warden, Washington, brushes the dirt from a spud, slices it and declares: Good potato!

While sales growth at McDonalds stores open at least 13 months has exceeded 3% for two years, the company is mindful American consumers are wanting more education than ever before, said Mark Kalinowski, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott in New York. They want to make sure that they are not losing business to competitors that do a better job at communicating this type of message.

Providing more information about the McDonalds menu is also a way to change the conversation, according to Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group. Locally sourced potatoes dont change the fact that a large order of McDonalds fries delivers 25 grams of fat.

McDonalds tries to come across as warm and fuzzy, Jacobson said. They dont show the frying of the potatoes which end up far higher in calories than they start out at.

Last year, McDonalds store owners received an e-mailed call to arms from the chains US President Jan Fields. The industry has been negatively impacted by food and product safety concerns, Fields wrote. Our ultimate success will require a fundamental shift in how we approach Brand Trust and how we incorporate these efforts in to everything we do.

Americans have more questions about where their food comes from whether theyre purchasing it from McDonalds or whether theyre purchasing it from a grocery store, said Heather Oldani, a McDonalds spokeswoman. Weve just started to scratch the surface with the Meet Our Suppliers campaign.

McDonalds is making other efforts to come clean about its food. Earlier this year, the Big Mac seller said it will require its pork suppliers to phase out the gestation pens that animal-rights groups have long deemed cruel to pigs. The move follows that of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which more than a decade ago began requiring its suppliers to raise pigs outside or in large cages and use antibiotic-free and vegetarian food.