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Friday, July 29, 2011

Localwashing-the Mcdonald's Way

McDonalds, the food corporation that controls much of the fast food market, developed a new advertising campaign in July 2010 to run in western Washington State which focused on "local" as part of a campaign. The company’s Press Release stated, "McDonalds is taking the bold step to provide more transparency" in its sourcing. The ads were labeled"From Here" and have been on TV, billboards, online, and in print since August 2010.

The campaign's emphasis was on the local component:

- 88% of apples served at McDonald's in western Washington is fromWashington State.

- 95% of French fries and hash browns served at McDonald's in westernWashington is from Washington.

- 95 out of every 100 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches served here come from thecold waters of the Pacific Northwest.

- McDonald's purchased over 497,000 gallons of Washington milk fromDarigold, a Northwest cooperative owned by over 500 dairy farmers.

Critics believe that McDonalds'campaign is disingenuous because it is only touting the local products is uses. Since the campaign started, consumers have clearly been aware that the company still uses unhealthy ingredients, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup on some of them. McDonalds has been targeted for localwashing; jumping on the buy-local bandwagon, an initiative many of its food counterparts have recently been adopting.

What is it about the local food movement that resonates with people? According to UTNE reader locally grown food has soared in popularity. The United States is now home to 4,385 active farmer’s markets, one out of every three of them started since 2000, and food co-ops and neighborhood green grocers are on the rise as well.

Walmart has also contributed to the buy-local campaign. Accordingto Stacie Mitchell, from the New Rules Project, Walmart currently “captures more than one of every five dollars spent on groceries (UTNE).” The food industry is primed for creating a positive impact on the community through buy-local campaigns, but what does this mean for multinational corporations, that use such products alongside those with unhealthy ingredients?

The local movement is supported by encouraging people to buy locally no matter if it's from your neighborhood mom and pop store or a large chain in your neighborhood. Many believe that buying local is part of a grassroots movement, supporting local producers from smaller, family-owned businesses and that this grassroots model cannot be applied to multinational companies like McDonalds and Walmart.

What could be a positive solution for large food companies to sell products with local ingredients? Changing every ingredient to be healthier as well as local would be a start. McDonalds' ad campaign, which is attempting to persuade people into thinking that the company has changed its health credo is deceitful, primarily because it is not announcing the change in all the products it sells. Highlighting only the local aspects of the product will not have lasting power with smart consumers but will instead create skepticism about the nutritional value of the product.

As for the case of McDonalds, making a big claim about its local products while putting a disclaimer at the bottom of the ads stating: participation and duration may vary, is not transparency. “It’s about stating a commitment to being socially and environmentally responsible throughout the entire brand.” According to Michelle Barry, senior vice president of the Hartman Group, “Big companies have to be much more creative in how they articulate local . . . It’s a different way of thinking about local that is not quite as literal.” If a company makes a huge statement about its products having local ingredients with a disclaimer, it is not instilling trust in those socially conscious consumers.”

Buy-local campaigns can have a positive impact on the community because big brands have the purchasing power and market capabilities to support local causes in a big way. As part of its local initiative, Walmart has been selling peaches from Georgia and potatoes from Maine, supporting farmers. It is equally important, however, for the company to be transparent about what it is working on and what it needs improvement on, while not making bold statements that will steer consumers into thinking that the company is greener than it actually is.

The key is for companies to understand how to be sincerely transparent and acknowledge what conscientious consumers want-complete transparency and a better quality product from a committed company that aims at carrying out its credo through all facets of the brand.

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