Thursday, August 9, 2012

BlogHer '12 McDonalds Breakfast

I wrote yesterday an overall recap of BlogHer in New York, the good, the bad and the ugly.  There were highlights, and I did come away with some interesting interactions.  On Friday morning, I was invited to the McDonalds breakfast where we tried some of the new menu items and heard from a panel of McDonalds executives

Personally, I adored the blueberry pomegranate smoothie we ate.  The oatmeal wasn't my favorite, primarily because it's instant oatmeal and I like my oatmeal big and chewy.  We also sampled some apple and yogurt dippers that were pretty tasty, and I really enjoyed the smoothie - did I mention that yet?

The real draw of the day was the panel of senior McDonalds executives from McDonalds US President Jan Fields, Senior Director of Nutrition Dr. Cindy Goody, and Nutrition and Culinary Director Chef Jessica Foust R.D.  The session was fairly open ended, with the McDonalds team looking for ideas and suggestions from bloggers in attendance.  While not all the answers were the ones I was hoping to hear - and the vast majority of the questions submitted by Family Arches members (including me) prior to the event weren't addressed, I'm hoping they still will be in the weeks to come.

This is strictly a transcript of the question and answer session, and I am placing no judgements on it.  I would like to know what you think of some of the information shared and the questions asked.  Where do you stand on McDonalds as a restaurant?

McDonalds Breakfast Q&A

At McDonalds, we Have done a lot - the 400 and under calorie favorites, adding more dairy and whole grains to menu, and more.

In terms of the new menu options, the nutrition information and access to it, what else can you do in local communities to make get the word out about how you can make more informed choices?

Question - As an adult, my mom had to be told to go on cholesterol medication and specifically told to not go to McDonalds, an aunt lost a foot to diabetes.  I'm now a vegetarian in response to a lot of heart disease.  What are you doing for vegetarians?

Jan - You can always ask for options with no meat.  That's a vegetarian option.  One of the things people ask me all the time is why you don't have a veggie burger. We never sell any, though we've offered it before.  We did it in Southern California, and it has been a real challenge.  We do continue to look at it,but if you don't sell enough of something in a given amount of time, you can't sell it.  It can't hold.  They can get everything from a grilled cheese to a Big Mac with no meat.

Jan - Can you talk about food causing one thing versus another reason for the health issues?

Cindy - We talk about heart disease and diabetes.  I love the ability to customize.  We have my meal builder on the website are hoping to build it out to the mobile app.  That way you can build a fish sandwich with or without tartar sauce, a two patty burger or not.  It will recalculate the nutritional values for you.

Question: I worked at McDonalds when I was 15.  I've seen a lot of the changes that McDonalds has gone through.  I've noticed the aspect of training people, and the issue of people are not thrilled about the new changes that are coming.  It's a big problem when I ask for no fries and they put them in the Happy Meal anyway.  Is there going to be more employee training?  I get that many are 15 years old, but is there a process to help relieve the frustration of parents?

Jan - I think that there is always an opportunity from a training standpoint, and we're working on it.  It's about customer satisfaction overall and that you're giving the customer what they're asking for overall.  I hear what you're saying.  We've gotten that feedback before, so thank you for that.

Question:  I do enjoy the new Happy Meals.  My son is autistic, so he rejects anything in sandwich form.  This can make things a challenge when we eat out.  Gradually, I'm seeing grilled or baked chicken bites for kids.  Is McDonalds looking at this for the future?

Jan - Chef Jessica is looking.  We are looking at grilled chicken nuggets.  Stay tuned.

Question:  There is a great campaign in Canada on twitter and elsewhere showing the process behind the food.  Is that something that will come here?

Jan - We love the campaign.  We are keeping a big eye on it, and things often move over borders.

Jessica - Social media is borderless.  You'll see that.  We may bring something in.  It's something where my boss Chef Dan showed how to make the sauce in his home. I love that you're seeing it.

Question: I have a son who is almost 3 who has celiac disease.  What is McDonalds doing to provide gluten free options?  I encourage McDonalds to be a leader in gluten free options.  People will follow you.

Jan - I met two nights ago with a mother and father.  It was about celiac disease.  Their doctor told them that the fries at McDonalds are safe, so they started going there.  I've been working on the food allergy issue.  There is a huge need for it.  You've got to be careful.  It's amazing how careful you have to be, and I learned so much about what you have to do.  That is definitely being brought up, and we're looking at it.  I was touched by it when you have a child who wants to do something and isn't able . We'll get there.

Question:  I have a son with food allergies.  I want to thank McDonalds because I know the food is reasonably safe, know what I can order thanks to the website, and I like to be able to customize the meals.  When I go to restaurants, especially the teenagers, they frequently say "I don't think so" when I ask if there is a nut in it.  Is there training for employees around food allergies?

Jan - Probably not enough.  This is being brought up to us.  The parent is always in control, and I know how they are about watching everything.  Over the past couple weeks, it's come to light even more to us about how we need to train more on the ingredient side.  When you hear a theme, it's there.  Half the room will probably give the same feedback.  How many people in this room have the same concern?  That's the beauty of doing something like this.  You have a room with 100 people and so many who are doing this.  There is so much pressure and demand.  I get it.

Question: I am the McMayor of my McDonalds.  My school does chicken nugget Wednesday and pizza Friday.  The parents revolted when they heard about it.  I think it's an education issue.  I was perturbed that they were bothered by it, but I would love to see a side by side comparison to campaign through parents to schools so they can see the results that this is actually better than the greasy cafeteria meals they get every day.  How do you reach schools or parents or communities that way?

Jan - Why we're doing the campaigns like we're doing now is that we are really proud to go side by side from a nutritional standpoint because we believe we'll win.  It's a perception thing.  People say, "Can you give me a Kleenex?" when they mean tissue.  Because of the size and scope, they say McDonalds, but they mean a term and not McDonalds specifically.  We're doing a number of campaigns. It's people like you who can help because it's people like you who are helping to educate and the campaigns we're running that are important.  In grocery stores, it's common to look at labels. I don't know that we do enough of this outside McDonalds.  When you start to ask the same question you ask now at other restaurants, you'll start to be surprised.  Not everything fits everyone's diet.  Then there is the whole activity component that schools need to get on.  It's about moving, too.

Jessica - What has shocked some people, if you look at our menu, 80% of our menu is 400 calories or less.  To Jan's point, people are surprised by this.  It causes people to look at our menu and think differently.

Question:  You brought up labels.  I have 4 children, 3 boys, 1 girl.  They all want the same toy.  They always assume we want 3 boy toys and 1 girl, but the boy toy  is the more fun one.  They feel horrible that they have to ask for the boy toy.  Any choice of taking that label away?

Jan - They are trained to say what the toy is to ask and not to say boy/girl.  It's a stereotype thing, but it doesn't always happen.  I feel your pain.

Jessica - As a parent, my son the other day acted like he was eating dirt when I tried to get him to eat a red pepper.  What thoughts or ideas do you have around fruits and vegetables?  We'd like to offer additional choices.

Fadra - I would really like to see a burger that some of the other brands where they have a lot of good lettuce, tomato, onion.  I don't mean a little sliver of lettuce.  It helps you fill up, too.  I know that there have been a lot of those type of burgers over the years.  As far as kids eating veggies, good luck with that.  I really love the Asian chicken salad and would love to see that as a regular menu item.  There was something I used to get called that All American Meal.  It was just a cheeseburger, small fry, and drink.  It's great for portion control.  I know people who do Weight Watchers can have that as an acceptable meal.  I can get it in one nice package.

Audience: I have kind of picky eaters.  One daughter would not touch yogurt.  Hummus and vegetables are good, especially if you package them like you do yogurt in a cup so it is less likely to spill in a car.  Do it with carrots, cucumbers, red peppers.  That would totally fly.

Audience: I'm a public school teacher in Philly.  We did the hummus and veggies in my school on a healthy foods trial. They didn't go for it.  What did work, I found if people bought the celery and raisins and made ant logs, they ate it.  When they're playing with it, they ate it.  Maybe advertise it with a picture of the logs and then they play with the food to make it (the picture on the ad).  They like to play with their food.  If they don't realize it's healthy, they'll eat it.

Audience: My kids love the fruit and snacks in the happy meals.  Could you make the package more like a cup so when you're driving, they can dip it more easily so they don't have to try to peel it back and not spill it?

Audience: I'm also a big fan of the Asian chicken salad.  My kids all take the edamame.  I would pay extra for a side of edamame.  My kids also love the baby cucumbers.  

Jan - We're actively testing different options. Whether it be kiwi, pineapple, or something else, we're looking at a number of different things.  I will tell you that the Asian salad is seasonal.  If there are ingredients that are only seasonally available, it's hard to do them in the numbers we need.  It's hard to say we want edamame all year when it isn't available in the quantities we need.  We rotate the southwest salad and Asian salad.  The southwest sells 5:1, so it gets to stay all year.  The unique ingredients - corn - are not as hard to get all year as edamame.

Kelby - Have you thought of yogurt parfaits as an option as a side for kids or adults?  I'm not that big of a fan of fries, but my kids won't give up a happy meal for a parfait if we have to build it out.  Have you thought about doing premium sides?  It's great that there are apples.  My kids will eat veggies and dip.  It would be great to offer 4 premium healthy sides for an adult or kid.  You may not have the volume, but I would pay more to have a good side.

Jan - We are testing right now where they have extra value meals where you can put together your own sides.  We haven't done it from a Happy Meal perspective, but we are clearly looking at what other options we can have besides an apple.  The choices are very involved in testing.

Jessica - We've heard a lot about edamame and seasonal.  We're looking at can we have blueberry as a side for happy meals when we have the blueberry oatmeal seasonal item.

Question: My kids love salads.  Buying a $6 salad when they can only eat half of it, I don't do.  Is it possible to make a half size salad even if they don't want a full one to go with a cheeseburger?  The side salads don't have meat, and my kids are meat eaters.

Jan - You can ask for a side salad and ask for meat.  You can ask, "Can I get a fish no bun?"  They'll charge for it, but you can do it.  Along that line, I am one who is very interested in portion control.  That's something we're doing - we lowered the size of McFlurries, we took away the large on them and on the shakes.  We're looking at more smaller portions available, and we feel like that's a good route to go.  Just go smaller.

Question: I didn't like a salad as a kid.  I loved the salad shakers.  I loved shaking it up - it was exciting to me. That's how my dad got me to eat salad.  

Jan - The salad shaker went down in history as one of our big failures.  Unfortunately it didn't shake well.  Either it didn't shake well or people felt we were cheating them because it wasn't very full.

Question:  In the 70s and 80s, my family did the regional advertising for McDonalds.  I have three kids and am a working mom.  I'm from a farm.  Thank you for telling the stories about farmers in your advertising this year.  In the fruits and veggies, it's important to tell where it comes from, and don't feel bad about it.  If you say that it's from California, say that.  If you're supporting the apple farmers in the States, tell us. People have a huge interest in where our food comes from . I would love to connect our farms with our food.  There's a great story to tell with the farm to McDonalds.

Jan - We're really proud of that campaign.  America is farmers.  Those are real farmers who produce food for us out of this country.

Question: Talking about options, both my kids have given up Happy Meals because they love the chicken wrap.  I would love to see that as a happy meal option.

Jan - I think we're going into a test with that....

Jessica - Yes, we are.

Question: I do like knowing where my fruits and veggie are coming form.  A grilled fish sandwich would be good instead of just fried.  I'd like to have bacon added.  I'd love to see, "You bought a burger or happy meal, here are some exercises you can do to burn off the calories."  It encourages not just healthy eating but healthy living.

Cindy - We've committed that 100% of our messages on Happy Meals will be positive where they talk about exercise or nutritional information.  There is something with the Olympics talking about jumping jacks and how to do it.

Jessica - What do you see as McDonalds' role in bringing awareness of the balance of activities.  Do we have a role in bringing that with 14,000 restaurants?

Question: I blog about tweens.  It's a hangout for kids and want to commend you for investing in a lot of space for a hangout with basketball and place for kids to play in the restaurant. It's not just the babies playing in the play spaces. They can go shoot hoops or ride the exercise bike, and that's awesome.  I'd love to see you do more of that, knowing that it's a space issue.  You recognize that this is a hangout, especially where there's space to do so.

Question: I know McDonalds does a lot of sports funding.  There's a backlash for it, because there's the perception that McDonalds is unhealthy but now you just funded this sports field.  I'd love to see more education around "Yes, we're giving a football field, but we're also doing more for nutrition for the football players."  I have a 3 year old and a 6 week old, and we're starting to get into McDonalds now.  I am big into BPA free plastic.  Can you address that issue, too?

Jessica - I know that is something that we have to go back to confirm, but most of our packaging is BPA free.  We'll get back to you on it.  We have looked at it, and we're continuing to look at it.  We're trying to make it more recyclable in our packaging.

Question: My kids will eat anything with dip.  Since you took the caramel away, they throw the apples away now.  They would eat the apples but not the fries; now that you took the caramel away, they don't eat the apples.  I would be happy to pay more and order it on the side.  I'd be happy to pay extra for ranch or caramel.

Jan - I've heard that before.  I know it is a challenge.

Question:  In a slightly different direction, not only does McDonalds get a bad rap for nutrition, but another thing my friends express concern to me about McDonalds is the environmental concerns and animal welfare.  Can you talk a bit about this?

Jan - They can add the technical stuff. We've been involved in the World Wildlife Fund.  We do a good job.  For some, there are infrastructures that cause a problem. We just made an  announcement for the sows to not be in gestation stalls.  Within the industry, there are people on both sides who think that this is not safe.  We continue to do research and worked with industry organizations.  We've been working with PETA from an animal welfare standpoint. We want to do the right thing, and there's no question that we can change an industry.  We can't do everything.

Cindy - We have an animal welfare council, a longstanding council at McDonalds.  We hire a lot, including partnering with Dr. Temple Grandin and continue to discuss these concerns.

Jan - We would be happy to share the sustainability reports.  I think you'd be very proud of what we've done.  I'm not doing justice to this, but I can get you the information.

Jessica - We do have an opportunity to share more about what we're doing.  We put out the reports, but it's not reaching our customers in the ways we're engaging.

Jan - You're a powerful group out there.  If someone has a bias or a slant on something, well now all of a sudden it's real.  We've got to do more to get credible information out there, but some people just don't want to believe.  Sometimes the things I get called and asked about, I can't believe.  We're in a position where everyone looks at everything we do.  If we aren't honest about it and don't look at it, people will find out.  We don't take any risk at all.  We're very careful and conservative in food safety and everything. It disappoints me when I see what someone has said and it's not factual.  That's why we come out and do listening tours.  We have people who go out and talk about everything.  We use outside experts to help us.  We're always looking to do better, but we are proud of what we do.

Cindy - The My Plate, USDA, FDA, etc.  My counterparts in industry are coming to us to talk about what we're doing.

Question:  I lived on a dairy farm, and unfortunately we were really small and sold out in 2009 because you have to go big or you can't feed your family.  Some of the decisions that McDonalds has made about the sow crates, etc are devastating to us.  We feel like people who don't know anything about a farm animal are now making us do things that are devastating for the animals.  We as farmers would love to help educate people on how you really raise a pig or what it's like to raise the vegetables.  It becomes emotional for us, but then we feel like we've been slapped in the face and don't want to go to McDonalds.

Jan -I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comment.  The industry has worked very closely with us, the farm bureaus and pork and beef producers.  There are two sides to everything.  No one cares more about the animals than the farmers.  That's their living.  They want them to be healthy and grow well.  We can't go down a highway without my husband telling me that's a John Deere 210.  He has it in his blood, too.

Question: My son was born missing half his heart.  I'm also a dairy farmer.  I was terrified when we flew to Seattle, and he's been in and out of hospitals.  I had no one to support me in these cities.  It was the Ronald McDonald Charities that were there for us.  In all the places he's had surgery, we have been able to stay in those houses. It was so comforting knowing that those houses were there for me.  We never want to forget where we came from.  We talk about the charities on my blog.  We try to do donation drops, simple things like fruits and veggies so the families can go spend time with their loved ones.  We don't eat at McDonalds that often, but I would love to be able to have a small drop box at McDonalds for the Ronald McDonald charities.  So many people would love to support your charity.  I would love to support it more, but I can't do the long drive to the closest house as often as I'd like.

Jan - I'm thrilled to hear about your son.  We have over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world.  We just opened the largest one in Chicago.  We do the collection box in every restaurant where you can leave money, but I'll take that back to them.  If there's another type of donation that they can handle, I'd love that.  A lot of them do the bottle caps, too.

Question from Family Arches: What does the future of the McDonalds brand look like?

Jan - It's making sure that we are America's favorite, safest, and most reliable place to feed your families everyday. I want you to feel good about eating at McDonalds daily if you want to.  You can rely on, trust, and feel really good about eating here.  We need to change the perception that it's not good food.

Thank you guys so much.  We've enjoyed the dialogue.  It's not ending here today.  You can join the Family Arches community.  We wish you all the best.


Jen @ BigBinder August 9, 2012 at 10:55 PM  

I am totally impressed that they are partnering with Temple Grandin!!

Capability August 10, 2012 at 5:58 AM  

I was the audience member who suggested the hummus and vegetables and my friend and Boston Parent Blogger commented on it being a hang out - her McDonald's has a basketball court. Great to get the kids moving.
Great write up - Thanks for posting it.

Capability August 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM  

Sorry, typing on iPad...fellow Boston Parent Blogger was what I meant

Tricia O. August 10, 2012 at 7:35 AM  

Interesting. I feel like they danced around some issues, but it was good to hear about some of the potential changes being made. Thanks for sharing!

Carmen August 10, 2012 at 6:25 PM  

I think they avoided answering the majority of those questions.

I also feel that, if your kid likes hummus and peppers, pack it before you leave the house. Expecting a fast food restaurant to offer everything you or your kids like leads to unmet expectations. I don't expect a fast food restaurant to offer the BEST.MEAL.EVER. So I don't go there, and I bring food with me everywhere I go. Hummus, carrots, peppers, apples, water bottles, soy butter and peanut butter packets.

Thanks for the write up. It was interesting to read.

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