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'Sorry Jamie, Ronald's the champion of good kids' food'

McDonald’s often finds itself under attack from ethical evangelists but I would argue that its socially responsible behavior is highly impressive.

McDonald's: launching 'Free Fruit Fridays' today

McDonald's: launching 'Free Fruit Fridays' today

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As the leading obesity whipping boy, McDonald's realises that it needs to lead and not just follow

The latest move, Free Fruit Fridays, is another example in a long line of initiatives from McDonald’s that shows it is in touch with its customers and, as the leading obesity whipping boy, realises that it needs to lead and not just follow.

Last September it announced it would offer healthy options as part of its popular value meals, letting customers choose a side salad, fruit or vegetables instead of French fries as part of its efforts to address the global obesity epidemic.

It also pledged to only promote water, milk, low fat milk drinks and juice as the beverages in its popular Happy Meals for children.

McDonalds has put customer satisfaction at the heart of its business but more significantly, caring for their customers is now more the ethos.

The brand was one of the first of the fast food chains to respond to the nutritional needs of consumers with salads (OK, the dressing was a little calorific), fruit and veg pieces for kids and salt reduction.

It is open and honest about the calories in its food, something that few other companies would be brave enough to reveal.

What is more, McDonald’s has championed the use of Rainforest Alliance coffee, Freedom Foods and paying British farmers a decent price for milk (unlike the supermarkets).

Happy parents

The new Free Fruit Friday initiative is well thought through, and although cynics may claim it’s just a way to sell more Happy Meals, it will certainly make many parents happy.

McDonald’s is far more than a fast food chain, it has become an institution for families. Every kid wants a McDonald’s party. A weekly visit is a treat; even the late Princess Di took her kids there. It is loved by millions and with this comes influence and responsibility.

It provides a decent meal to both the rich and poor, and during the darkest months of recession even those newspapers who liked to engage in a bit of McDonald’s bashing sung its praises for providing an affordable meal.

Ronald may be a clown but McDonald’s is smart and the lesson many brands can learn from the chain is that the company does not just do things for PR or marketing spin. It sees the value in doing things properly because it realises how important its customers are. McDonald’s knows that you can’t mess with kids because parents are a powerful group who react in a unified way.

Free Fruit Fridays should make chief executives of other fast food companies ask their marketers why they didn't think of it

McDonald’s is also acutely aware of its scapegoat status in the obesity war, so staying one step ahead of government health demands is good business sense.

The Free Fruit Fridays is much more than a marketing initiative, it’s a model that should make chief executives of other fast food companies ask their marketers why they didn’t think of it.

Even though you may get a group of left-wing vegetarians claiming hamburgers are linked to methane (due to cows) and destroying the planet (factually incorrect by the way) there are just as many real experts who think McDonald’s provides good food.

Sorry Jamie, Ronald is now the champion of good kids' food.

Chris Arnold is the creative partner of Creative Orchestra and author of Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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