July 27, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- At the London Games, McDonald's is embracing an image that executives want to stoke but critics consider a joke: good nutrition.
Longtime Olympic sponsor McDonald's has made several high-profile nutritional moves within days of the Games, but in a world where health and nutrition have emerged as front-burner issues, the world's largest fast-food chain is catching grief from critics on both sides of the Atlantic even as it touts:
Nutritional QR codes. At its Olympics restaurants on Thursday, McDonald's introduced a nutrition QR code on packaging. Customers hold up their smartphones to the code to find out detailed nutritional information. The QR code will roll out to a majority of McDonald's restaurants by 2013, says Kevin Newell, chief brand officer.
Lower-calorie menus. Earlier this week, McDonald's unveiled a "Favorites Under 400 Calories" U.S. menu. About 80% of McDonald's menu items are less than 400 calories.
Healthier Happy Meals. CEO Don Thompson said in London on Thursday that since the 2010 Vancouver Games, purchases of fruit and vegetables in Happy Meals have more than quadrupled in markets that make up a majority of McDonald's business.
Healthier Olympic menu. The chain's Olympic menu may be its most diverse ever -- from Spicy Veggie Wraps to organic milk.
But critics say McDonald's is fooling no one. Even the London Assembly recently passed a motion calling for a sports sponsorship ban on fast-food companies such as McDonald's and soft-drink makers such as Coca-Cola.
"McDonald's wants to sponsor the Olympics because they want everyone to think that physical activity is the determining factor in obesity -- but food is," says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University. She says its burgers, fries and soft drinks should only be eaten "every once in a while."
But Dan Coudreaut, executive chef a McDonald's, disagrees. "I've produced burgers, fries and sodas all of my career, whether at McDonald's or the Four Seasons," he says. "I don't look at these products as unhealthy."
One nutritionist says McDonald's days as a viable Olympic sponsor may be numbered. "Future Olympics will be under pressure to associate with healthy partners," says Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. "There will come a time when it will become a public relations liability for the Olympics to associate with sponsors like McDonald's, and they simply won't do it anymore."
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