|McDonald's hamburger wrappers as well as other product packaging will now carry a nutritional bar chart.
Graphics for calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates and sodium will appear on packaging for McDonald's food products along with a value and the daily recommended allowances based on the government's nutritional guidelines.
In the U.S. the labels will appear in English and Spanish, while in Canada labels will be in English and French. McDonald’s Europe will be the first restaurant company to use the pan-European values, called Guideline Daily Amounts, or GDAs.
“Through research we learned that consumers found the bar chart easier to understand,” said Dr. Kathy Kapica, McDonald’s director of global nutrition. Although the company has provided nutritional information in pamphlets and on its Web site, the icons “complement” the prior information making it easier to read, she added.
“This step, a first for the quick-service restaurant industry, is the latest transparency initiative in the company’s 30-year record of providing nutrition information to help customers make informed choices,” said Jim Skinner, McDonald’s chairman-CEO. He said the effort, in the works for two years, would have a “minimal” effect on the bottom line “compared with the impact” it would have on consumers’ health.
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that's been a gadfly of the food industry, said the move is beneficial, but noted that the restaurant industry had blocked such a move for more than 20 years for being impractical.
“McDonald’s action puts the lie to that it’s clearly doable for a company like McDonald’s, where most of its foods have unique packaging,” he said. “However, it doesn’t provide people with clear information before they buy the product and the single best way to do that is to provide calorie information on the menu boards. Is it going to have a big impact? I doubt it.”
Along with some legislators, the CSPI advocates putting calorie counts directly on the menu boards, a move fast-food companies say will clutter menus and slow service. Several states have proposed legislation, with mixed results. Some states have voted the measure down, while others, including New York, are still pursuing bills that would require chains to include calorie counts on the menu boards.
“I’m sure [pre-empting the food police] is an unspoken benefit of providing the information on the packages,” Mr. Jacobson said. “It might give some legislators an excuse for not voting on giving calorie labeling on menu boards.”
After tests in several countries, McDonald’s will first introduce the packaging in February 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, then in the U.S., in March and in 20,000, or two-thirds, of its worldwide restaurants by the end of 2006. Other restaurants will add nutrition information on packaging as it becomes “locally relevant and commercially feasible,” executives said.
McDonald’s will promote the effort with public relations, tray liners and other in-store displays, as well as on its Web site, rather than through advertising. Havi Group’s the Marketing Store Worldwide, in London and Oak Brook, Ill., handled, along with its design agency Boxer in Birmingham, U.K.