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McDonald's touts 'quality' in ad campaign

McDonald's on Monday will kick off a two-day media event to tout the quality of its food and combat critics who say its burgers and fries are unhealthy.
/ Source: Reuters

Every day inside an unassuming building on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, thousands of hamburgers are run through metal detectors on their way to becoming Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

The detectors, along with hourly tasting tests of burger and sausage patties made at the plant and five-hour-long nightly cleanups, are just a few of the food quality and safety measures McDonald's Corp. requires of its suppliers.

And the company wants its customers to know it.

McDonald's on Monday will kick off a two-day media event to tout the quality of its food and combat critics who say its burgers and fries are unhealthy.

New print ads tout McDonald's "top quality USDA eggs" and "high quality chicken", and the company already has a Balanced Lifestyles initiative to promote physical activity.

The company recognizes it is often criticized.

"Because we are the biggest and the best, some people like to take shots at us," J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez, the head of McDonald's U.S. supply chain, said in an interview.

High-profile attacks on McDonald's in recent years, such as the 2004 film, "Super Size Me," have accused the company of contributing to the United States' obesity problems with products like the Big Mac, whose 30 grams of fat are equal to about half the government's recommended daily amount.

McDonald's in recent months has blamed the poor image of its food among British consumers for a falloff in sales in Britain. To prevent that from spreading further, one marketing expert said the company wants to shift the focus away from its burgers' fat and calorie content.

"Maybe if people think they have this terrific quality, then they'll forget about the calories and the fat," said Jack Trout, president of marketing strategy firm Trout & Partners. "Will it fix it with the naysayers? No. But what it will do is present more of a rationale for the people who take their kids to this place."

One of the myths Gonzalez-Mendez said the new campaign aims to eradicate is the perception that McDonald's burgers are filled with additives and other non-beef ingredients.

To combat that assertion, the company invited Reuters to tour the Lopez Foods Inc. meat processing plant, where 2,000-pound containers of beef are fed into gigantic metal grinders before being pressed into patties, frozen and finally stacked into cardboard boxes.

Tests for bacteria like E.coli that cause food-borne illnesses are conducted before the meat is allowed to be unloaded at the plant, Lopez executives said. Further tests are also conducted at Lopez's own laboratory.

Each box of patties is labeled with a tracking number that can be traced back to the meatpacker that supplied the meat. In addition, more than 10 percent of McDonald's beef is currently traceable back to the individual animal, according to Gonzalez-Mendez.

Opening up its suppliers' facilities to the media is one of of the ways McDonald's is trying to be more transparent about where its food comes from.

Next week, McDonald's will add a feature to its Web site that will allow visitors to track how each ingredient in popular products like the Egg McMuffin are sourced.

In recent months, the company has also allowed customers behind the counter at restaurants in Europe and Asia so they can see how the food is prepared and what it is made from. A similar initiative could be implemented in the United States.