Food Allergy Canada has met with McDonald’s Canada CEO and president John Betts and members of his senior team to discuss the fast-food chain’s recent menu changes.
The changes, announced in January, included McDonald’s Canada issuing new warning that any of its foods “may contain or come into contact with allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts or other allergens”.
While nothing concrete emerged from the hour-long meeting, Laurie Harada, executive director of the non-profit organization, says it was a “fruitful” discussion. “What we agreed on as a starting point is to gain clarity around their allergen statement and processes and discuss how McDonald’s could improve upon their communications,” Harada said.
Among the Canadian food allergy community, thousands have expressed their profound disappointment at the new company approach on food allergens through a petition, and also in Facebook and Twitter posts, adopting a #NotLovinIt hashtag. McDonald’s has been known for kitchen protocols to avoid cross-contact even though allergens such as dairy, soy and wheat are present.
It’s unclear whether these allergy safety practices will continue in the United States, as McDonald’s in the U.S. has not answered Allergic Living’s questions.
The lack of specifics and clarity in the restaurant chain’s statements regarding the presence of allergens has drawn criticism from both the food allergy community and marketing experts.
Jennifer Marley, a partner at Sklar Wilton & Associates Ltd., a Toronto-based market research company, says the chain’s decision is “creating a lot of bad will with a small, but impactful niche.” When asked the company’s communication of this change to consumers, she replied that McDonald’s “slammed” the news in everyone’s face. “You used to go there and feel safe with food allergies, but now that’s gone.”
Harada says Food Allergy Canada’s goal isn’t to tell restaurants how to run their business, but to be mindful of the language they use to communicate about allergens protocols to manage the risk of cross-contact.
She views the McDonald’s situation as “a platform for us to talk about wider issues and that we’d like to see food services welcome people with food allergies. We’d rather see more specific language than a blanket statement. People appreciate details; where they get really upset is when it’s not explained.”
Last year, McDonald’s Canada announced the introduction of a McFlurry product with chocolate M&M’s that “may contain” peanuts, as well as butter and cheese on some grilled sandwiches. In January, the fast-food chain introduced a McFlurry with SKOR chocolate which contains both almond and milk ingredients. It was McDonald’s Canada’s first product that contained peanuts or tree nuts that were not individually packaged for allergen safety.
To the food allergy community, the change seemed sudden. McDonald’s outlets across North America have been known for kitchen protocols to avoid cross-contact even though allergens such as dairy, soy and wheat are present.
In the face of allergy community backlash, McDonald’s Canada executives have stood by their decision.
“The truth is we have made a significant change to our menu,” the company said in a Jan. 23 statement. “But let’s be clear – this is not about one new dessert item (SKOR McFlurry). Rather, this is about a holistic change to our business and the addition of menu items containing nuts that are not individually packaged.”
While it is uncertain whether McDonald’s Canada is going to reverse their decision, Food Allergy Canada hopes to continue their discussion about how the company can better communicate changes related to allergens.