A McD's Scoop George Lazarus Would Have Eaten Up

McDonald's will be steaming a webcast at 10 a.m. Eastern today to unveil "a multi-year nutrition awareness effort that will add more nutritionally balanced menu choices and help kids and adults nationwide make informed food decisions."

One thing on the plate will be an announcement that it is adding a serving of fruit or veggie to its Happy Meals for children. It also will shrink the amount of French fries that go with them. The new menu will roll out in some markets in September and will be in place in all 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. by next April.

Back in the day -- the day being a quarter century ago or so -- there would be hell to pay if some fearless marketer in Chi-Town and environs tried to slip through a major announcement like this without giving it to Chicago Tribune columnist George Lazarus first. This morning, the Trib's Emily Bryson York, ex of Ad Age, has the scoop.

The French fry holders will contain 1.1 ounces of potatoes, down from 2.4, York reports. "People come to McDonald's and, first of all, they want the choice and the control to be theirs, but their expectation of a Happy Meal does include a fry," McDonald's USA president Jan Fields tells her. "When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor."

The healthy side dishes will include apple slices, carrots, raisins, pineapple slices or mandarin oranges. Prices will remain the same as they are now.

"The business strategy for McDonald's is to make parents feel less guilty about feeding fast food to their children, so they'll become more frequent customers," York writes.

It will also announce that it is reducing the amount of sodium in its offerings by 20% and "will work toward additional reductions in sugars, saturated fat and calories by 2020."

The company has, of course, been under increased pressure from activists over everything from giving away toys in Happy Meals to the use of Ronald McDonald in advertising, as we re-reported in April. Sometimes, the inherently poor nutritional value of the meals seems to get lost in the street theater.

There are two ways to view today's announcement. One is from the highly idealistic POV that kids should be washing down tofu sandwiches on whole-grain breads with Super Sized green smoothies. The other is the more realistic understanding that when major players make incremental changes like this, it has far greater impact on more people than the opening of a new vegan restaurant on Main Street in your tiny village. That's the way we viewed Wal-Mart's five initiatives to ""make food healthier and healthier food more affordable."

(Plus, of course, there's the it-should-go-without-saying fact that no one is holding a gun to a parent's head to pull off the highway and head to the drive-through window under the arches -- although, admittedly, prolonged whining can sometime be as effective as an exposed Colt .45.)

The Web headline on the Trib's story gives a somewhat pessimistic spin to the announcement -- "Happy Meal to tilt at obesity," as if it might be some quixotic campaign against the windmill that is life in the 21st Century. McDonald's itself is attempting to manage expectations from the get-go.

"We know we're a leader and we know we need to be part of the solution," McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud tells York. "But we can't be looked at as providing the only solution."

My man George is no doubt working the phones somewhere in the afterlife trying to get to the bottom of this infinity rumor he heard floating around a black-tie affair last night.

"Mr. Lazarus was renowned in both journalism and the marketing industry for his skill in eliciting timely scoops," the Trib's James Janega and Tim Jones, with contributions from Jim Kirk, wrote in an appreciation of their colleague after he was found slumped over a stack of morning newspapers on the commuter train. "He trafficked in information and used it as a blunt instrument to get more information."

"We were sure he was hiding in our restrooms," DDB Worldwide CEO Keith Reinhard told the Trib writers. "Many times, we couldn't figure out how he got the story."

But George would be crowing about his beat only long enough to place his first call of the morning. "Whaddya got for me?" he'd be grilling some hapless marketer in Oak Brook by now.

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1 comment about "A McD's Scoop George Lazarus Would Have Eaten Up ".
  1. Maggie Hall from Legacy Health , July 26, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.

    How do you "steam" a webcast?