You Want Trans Fat-Free Fries with That?

May 22nd, 2008

First, Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC to reduce the negative impact of the word “fried,” and while the Colonel may have been rolling over in his imaginary grave, the general public didn’t seem to think much of it. A few years later, however, the fast food chain went trans fat free, and people started to take notice. Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other fast food chains started announcing plans to switch from highly-criticized frying practices and “trans fat free” became as standard as free ketchup. While doctors weren’t quite prescribing a #6 combo a day, the fast food industry seemed to gain a bit of goodwill for adopting healthier – albeit more expensive – practices.

McDonald’s, however, wasn’t able to jump on the healthy fast food bandwagon so easily. Although it had announced early on it would be changing its processes, the fast food giant faltered repeatedly, drawing widespread criticism and threats of lawsuits. McDonald’s blamed its failures on overwhelming cost and the challenges of converting such a huge system of stores — oh yeah, and reluctance to change the taste of its fries.

What’s so bad about trans fat anyway?

On Wednesday, however, CEO Jim Skinner announced that the company had been using trans fat free oil to cook its fries, chicken, Filet-O-Fish and other menu items for months without issue or consumer complaint. And much to the chagrin of all high school freshmen whose dreams of becoming star linemen rested on their 20 McNugget-a-day weight gain program, it had been secretly helping its customers get juussst a little healthier.

When you think about it, it’s a great communications strategy. Consider the brand barriers McDonald’s faced: 1. It had lost credibility with industry critics, 2. The trans fat story is SOOOO October 2006, and 3. When it comes to Mickey D’s fries, consumers mostly care how fast they get them and that they’re hot and salty – not how healthy they are.

With its sneaky strategy, McDonald’s has proven it can do it healthier and still do it right. What’s more, in a market environment in which even blue-chip companies are suffering, the company is actually doing something that costs them more money, sacrificing bigger margins for better customer health. Kudos to its marketing peeps for making the most of a challenging situation, and as long as McDonald’s doesn’t do away with the big straws, the company’s all right with me.

Posted Under: Branding
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