CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- McDonald's is tapping Olympic athletes to help lend credibility to a message it has been pushing for the past four years: that it uses only quality ingredients.
The company today hosted a media event featuring Olympians Katarina Witt, Shawn Johnson, Picabo Street and Cassie Campbell to preview its smoothies, set to launch this summer, for assembled media in Vancouver. It's part of a push launched in 2006 to infuse its marketing in every country with messages about food quality.
McDonald's, which has been the official restaurant of the Olympics for more than 33 years, uses the games and its relationship with the athletes to highlight these messages -- and impress the media. The fast feeder works to make sure its best crew from around the world is behind the counter at the Olympic Village, by way of contests in each country.
This year, the athletes served as captains for teams of children from around the world who won contests in their home countries to attend the Olympics with a chaperon and write about it on McDonald's dime. The object for each team: create a delicious smoothie in 90 seconds. Shawn Johnson's team won gold with a strawberry pineapple smoothie.
"It gives us a great platform to highlight our food quality," McDonald's global chief marketing officer, Mary Dillon, said about the Olympics. Dan Coudreaut, a five-star chef and director-culinary innovation at McDonald's, said the Olympics lets the brand tell "another chapter of our culinary story." After six years at McDonald's he said he still has conversations with people who are shocked that "we make our hamburgers with 100% beef," or that the chain's parfaits are made with "real yogurt."
That makes straightforward conversations about natural ingredients all the more important. "The way we view it right now, telling the quality story is an everyday part of marketing core," Ms. Dillon said. "We find whenever we talk to our customers, there's still an 'aha' factor [to the quality story], whether it's in traditional or social media." And so these conversations will continue, she said, "because it's so critical to what people are looking for, and it's core to our brand around the world."
The smoothies themselves, which launch in three sizes and two flavors -- strawberry banana and wild berry -- have been a three-year journey for McDonald's, which has been trying to figure out the right fruits that could be sourced in the right quantity and the right price. Raspberries, for instance, were going to be a little pricey this year, so Mr. Coudreaut and his team have created a berry blend with blueberries, blackberries and strawberries instead.
McDonald's also organized a Mom's Quality Correspondents panel in 2007 to address common concerns about the chain's food and how it's harvested, processed and prepared. The group of mothers traveled to farms, processing plants and restaurants to see fries and chicken McNuggets from source to table. The chain also hosts a microsite attached to McDonalds.com, where consumers can see items like a Big Mac get made and learn about individual suppliers.
On the site, consumers can also ask questions about individual ingredients, and look at a series of answers already posted. For instance, in regards to how long cheese is left out before serving: "Our cheese goes through a process called 'tempering,' which means it is left on the preparation table for up to 2 hours. This is necessary to get cheese to the required cooking or serving temperature, and meets all USDA safety and quality standards."