It's only fair to share…

The famous golden arches have been in the news this week and as usual attracting a degree of criticism. Questions have been raised about McDonalds sponsorship of the Winter Olympics and also a deal struck with weight watchers.

It is worth getting something on the table straight up. McDonalds is in the business of selling fast food. They have a legal and legitimate right to do so and to promote and advertise their products. They are entitled to offer sponsorship dollars in return for publicity.

Each individual person has a choice as to whether or not they choose to go to a McDonalds outlet and if so what menu items they choose.

The issue surrounding the Olympics is the usual gripe about an “unhealthy” product being seen alongside sports, and healthy athletes. It is fairly unlikely that the competitors at the Olympics eat much fast food from any company so they can hardly claim that any medal won was a tribute to the foods advertised. In turn it is drawing a long bow to suggest that viewers will draw that inference. Essentially this is awareness advertising and creating “warm fuzzes” so consumers look more fondly on the company, whether they buy the products or not.

The real question that arises is whether the organizers of the Olympics should accept such sponsorship? In my view there is no reason why they would not. Being sponsored does not imply support of the sponsor-it is the other way around. People can argue that there is endorsement by association. That is possible but even if it is the case-so what?

The key issue is that like all fast food, the issue is not its existence but how people use it. If someone goes to McDonalds once a month or so then really that is not a problem. Whilst I would not recommend it, and I am not a customer, I have no issue with people who go from time to time. Health problems arise if people eat fast food frequently. The product per se is not the problem; it is how people use it. That is a function of the individual not the company. When asked if you want to supersize or would you like fries you are not obligated to say yes. You always have a choice.

The second story is more interesting. In New Zealand (and Australia later this year) three menu items will bear the weight watchers logo. No doubt there has been a fee paid by McDonalds for this. Previously the company paid the Heart Foundation over $300,000 to put the tick on seven meals.

The Weight Watchers website advises people to avoid fast food, including warnings about salt, fats and additives. At the same time Weight Watchers logos will be seen on mats and menu boards in McDonalds. The three meals, which have earned the logo, are a wrap, chicken nuggets and a fish dish. All have around 400 calories.

What are we to make of this? The meals have to meet certain criteria to have received weight watchers endorsement. McDonalds have responded to previous criticisms by broadening their offering. Equally it is a strange pairing to have people on a diet go for fast food with the support of a group like weight watchers.

A few questions arise. Will the dieters order the weight watchers approved meals? Will they take their children and what meal will they have? Will people be full after these meals or might they go back for more?

Smart companies spot market trends and look to cater to them. Generally businesses are much smarter than “non profit” organizations for the simple reason that they have to be to survive. If there is demand for healthier food then smart businesses will respond to this. By the same token, smart consumers will know when they are being “taken for a ride”.

In my opinion those who genuinely want to lose weight will not benefit by going to any fast food outlet even if there are lower calorie options available and regardless of whose “endorsement” it has. If you want to have the occasional Big Mac then by all means do so and enjoy it-just do not make it a regular occurrence.