Wednesday, May 22, 2013

McDonald's Canada continues its "myth-busting" marketing

This strategy has been in play for some time, with McDonald's Canada pushing social media audiences to its "Our Food. Your Questions." campaign site.

This teaser video about the chicken content of McNuggets addresses a nagging perception about the ingredients. I recall reading the nutritional information on McNuggets back in the '80s, and realizing that it was basically congealed chicken soup (including mechanically separated meat and chicken stock). However, Huffington Post was forced to post a correction to a story about the popular fast food back in 2010, with the correction that McDonald's USA has been using only "white meat" since 2003.

What this newest volley in the McDonald's PR campaign is battling, is this popular meme image of questionable origin:

Purportedly a picture of mechanically-separated chicken slurry fated for your 6-piece McNugget meal, it has also erroneously been labelled as the "pink slime" cow-part filler that goes into commercial ground beef.

If you actually go to the McDonald's Canada site, here is their answer to the McNugget question:

They refer the users to third-party "Mom Bloggers" who have been taken on a junket to a Cargill chicken processing plant to observe and report on the process. (My favourite part of this post is the squeamish subtitle "From Alive Chicken to Not-Alive Chicken".)

Here is their description of the making of McNuggets:
The white breast meat, along with chicken stock and a natural proportion of skin from the breast is placed into a huge blender. I didn’t realize that there is skin in the nugget mixture but this helps to hold the shape. The meat is then mixed and chilled using CO2. McNuggets are formed, not ground. There are 4 shapes that are pressed out with a rolling cookie cutter: boot, bow-tie, ball and bell. The reason they are all standard in shape and size is to ensure consistency in all McDonald’s restaurants. This guarantees both food safety (standard cooking times in restaurants) and portion control. 
Once the fun shapes pop out, they are coated in batter, dusted with flour and then given a final coat of tempura batter. Who knew? From here they are par-fried and placed directly into the freezer. A thin mist of water is sprayed onto them, as tempura is susceptible to dehydration. They are then inspected and packaged to be sent off to the restaurants.


Here are the actual McNuggets ingredients, according the the corporate site:

White Meat Chicken McNuggets®: Chicken breast, water, modified corn starch, salt, seasoning [yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavour (vegetable source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, and rosemary] natural extractives of rosemary. Breaded with: water, wheat flour, yellow corn flour, modified corn starch, spices, salt, baking powder, dextrose, wheat starch, corn starch, modified hydrogenated soybean oil. Cooked in 100% vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ, citric acid and dimethylpolysiloxane). CONTAINS WHEAT

Now, let's see how honest McDonald's is being:

"Simple Ingredients"? Hmmm...

While the strategist in me can admire the theory and complexity of this grand social media strategy for McDonald's Canada, I think it really fails on true transparency.

Can dimethylpolysiloxane and TBHQ (tert-Butylhydroquinone) be considered "seasonings"?

Dimethylpolysiloxane is a type of silicone, "the most widely used silicon-based organic polymer, and is particularly known for its unusual rheological (or flow) properties. PDMS is optically clear, and, in general, inert, non-toxic, and non-flammable. It is also called dimethicone and is one of several types of silicone oil (polymerized siloxane). Its applications range from contact lenses and medical devices to elastomers; it is also present in shampoos (as dimethicone makes hair shiny and slippery), food (antifoaming agent), caulking, lubricating oils, and heat-resistant tiles." (Wikipedia)

TBHQ, added here as a cooking oil preservative, is "used industrially as a stabilizer to inhibit autopolymerization of organic peroxides. It is also used as a corrosion inhibitor in biodiesel. In perfumery, it is used as a fixative to lower the evaporation rate and improve stability. It is also added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives." (Wikipedia) It is, however, considered safe for human consumption in limited quantities.

Plus, there's all that hydrogenated oil.

I don't want to come off as a food alarmist. Industrial chemicals are just like any other substances we consume, even natural ones. They can have positive, negative, or negligible effects on our bodies. In short, I didn't come here to say "OMG, McNuggets use the same chemical as breast implants!!!"

Rather, I'm here to say that McDonald's is, ironically, building a lot of very obvious spin into a campaign that is supposed to be about giving honest answers to consumer questions. As unfair as the pink slime, chicken head and tumour rumours are to McDonald's current products, they could have done so by telling their whole story up front, rather than making people dig for the whole truth.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, good "honesty" there.

    > Can dimethylpolysiloxane and TBHQ (tert-Butylhydroquinone) be considered "seasonings"?

    No. They can be considered trace ingredients of the cooking oil. Or can't you read? I mean, it's clearly listed that way:

    "Cooked in 100% vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ, citric acid and dimethylpolysiloxane)."

    The fact that they're legally permitted to state "100% vegetable oil" implies that the non-vegetable-oil ingredients consist of less than 1% of the composition.

    I mean, in several of those posts, McD doesn't include "wheat" in their ingredients. You gonna ding them for that as "spin", or are you going to understand that, when referring to the meat nugget, they're talking about what's in the meat nugget, not what it's par-fried in?