McDonald’s French Fries: Transparency Gone Bad?

Last spring, McDonald’s restaurants launched a campaign aimed at being more open, honest and transparent with its customers. Included in this campaign are “Our Food, Your Questions” videos on the brand’s YouTube channel. In these videos, the company answers questions submitted by its customers via social media. While the videos have been around for over a year, an 8-month-old video discussing McDonald’s french fries has recently sparked outrage among healthy eating advocates online.

The video in question highlights McDonald’s french fry recipe. The recipe contains 17 ingredients, including preservatives, artificial colors and genetically modified oils. This has prompted many advocates to speak out against McDonald’s promoting petitions and boycotts, while others simply ask, “What ever happened to ‘potatoes, oil and salt’?” (Video After The Jump) 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaNH56Vpg-A&w=500]

This backlash against McDonald’s has prompted some experts to question if McDonald’s attempt at transparency was a mistake. Should McDonald’s have kept their french fry recipe under wraps?  How much transparency is too much?

So, was sharing the french fry recipe a mistake? Not at all.

While McDonald’s is far from innocent, the brand’s mistake was made years ago in a kitchen/laboratory, not in a five minute YouTube video. Creating food with complete disregard for human health is more than a mistake, it’s totally irresponsible. However, sharing the information online in a YouTube video was the best move that McDonald’s could have made.

You would be hard-pressed to find an American who hasn’t already made up his or her mind about McDonald’s. For some, McDonald’s products barely qualify as food. For others, McDonald’s is a delicious, affordable and quick meal, and they will continue to eat it whether it’s affecting their health or not. For most of us, McDonald’s and other fast foods are “sometimes foods.” We accept that the meals are unhealthy, so we just don’t eat them everyday. Whichever group a consumer falls into, it’s hard to believe that learning the french fry recipe will be changing her mind. In fact, the release of the recipe presents McDonald’s with a chance to improve and actually profit off of any bad publicity. New and improved “healthier” fries, anyone?

Imagine a scenario where McDonald’s didn’t share this information on it’s own, but rather it was “leaked” by former employees. Competitors and news outlets (at least those sponsored by Wendy’s and Burger King) would jump all over McDonald’s for the chance to exploit a juicy story. The bad publicity would be many times worse and reach far beyond the online health food community. This story could be front-page news, but thanks to McDonald’s transparency campaign, it’s sandwiched between articles about low-fat milk and “40 uses for lemons.”

The takeaway from the McDonald’s french fry experiment is that whether you’re running a small nonprofit working hard to make a difference or an “evil” corporation that puts profit above all else, transparency is still the name of the game. By being proactive and transparent, McDonald’s turned something that could have been a public relations disaster into a soon to be forgotten afterthought with a potential upside.

What do you think about McDonald’s, its transparency campaign, and its chemically enhanced french fry recipe? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image By: By Giorgio Martini (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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