McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) wants to explain why its burgers may not rot and that there are no worms in its beef.
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The world's biggest hamburger chain is confronting unappetizing questions as part of a U.S. campaign to beat back perceptions that it serves Frankenfood. The company has run similar campaigns in Canada and Australia and said Monday it's bringing the effort to its flagship market.
The push comes as McDonald's fights to boost its performance in the U.S., where sales slid 1.5 percent at established locations in the most recent quarter, following a 0.2 percent dip for last year. In addition to increased competition, McDonald's is trying to keep up with changing tastes, with places such as Chipotle marketing their food as more wholesome alternatives.
To improve the image of its food, McDonald's recently rolled out chicken wraps with sliced cucumbers and the option to substitute egg whites in breakfast sandwiches. It also plans to eventually let people swap out the french fries in value meals with options like salad or vegetables.
For its latest campaign, among the first issues McDonald's addresses are widely circulated online images and videos that show its burgers staying in tact after several weeks or even years. On its webpage, McDonald's says that's likely because the food has dehydrated, and that food needs moisture to form mold.
The company's responses to other questions such as "Does McDonald's beef contain worms?" are more direct: "No. Gross! End of story."
A video posted on the company's home page also showed Grant Imahara, a former host of the TV show "Mythbusters," touring a Cargill beef plant where McDonald's patties are made.
"Are there lips and eyeballs in there, Jimmy?" Imahara asks a plant supervisor, who explains that the patties only have beef trimmings. Another guide says the patties do not contain lean finely textured beef, an ingredient widely referred to as "pink slime" that became the subject of controversy a few years ago. McDonald's stopped using the ingredient about three years ago.
Ben Stringfellow, vice president of communications for McDonald's USA, said in a phone interview that the campaign is a new way of engaging with customers more directly. He noted people are demanding for more information about products across the board, not just from McDonald's.
"In many ways, it's the way the world is going," he said.
National TV ads will begin airing Monday letting people know about the push. McDonald's says people can submit questions via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The company plans to respond to the most common questions with videos or other posts, as well as responding one-on-one to questions, Stringfellow said.
Laura Ries, a marketing consultant based in Atlanta, noted McDonald's risks bringing up unappetizing thoughts some people may never have heard about.
"I didn't know people thought there were worms in its beef, or that they didn't use real chicken," Ries said.
Still, she agreed that companies have to be more responsive to questions from customers, especially at a time when people can amplify their concerns and criticisms to bigger audiences on social media.