News Column

McDonald's CEO: 'We Don't Sell Junk Food'

May 23, 2013

Emily York

McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich
McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich

McDonald's executives fielded a number of questions at its annual shareholder meeting Thursday, particularly those about its role in the global obesity epidemic.

"We don't sell junk food," McDonald's CEO Don Thompson said to a girl raising concerns about healthy eating. "We sell a lot of fruits and vegetables at McDonald's and we're trying to sell a lot more."

Thompson, who stepped into the CEO role last summer, said he's interested in expanding items like kiwi on a stick and pineapple, which are sold in other areas of the world. He said that the fast food chain has expanded healthier options in the last few years including smoothies, egg whites on breakfast sandwiches, and the new McWrap sandwiches, which incorporate vegetables like cucumbers.

Because of the menu expansion, Thompson said, the chain's best known items, such as Big Macs, fries and chicken nuggets, account for just 25 percent of the chain's sales.

Thompson also faced a number of questions about whether his company unfairly targets minorities, and African Americans in particular.

"This one's kind of close to home," said Thompson, an African American. "We do not have not, will not try to target people of color."

Thompson added that there was a McDonald's in his neighborhood growing up, but his family couldn't afford to eat there.

"I know what else I ate," Thompson said. "The epidemic of obesity's not about McDonald's; there needs to be more fresh food."

McDonald's investors voted down all shareholder proposals Thursday, including one asking the company to make an annual report regarding its impact on global nutrition, receiving 6 percent of the vote, and another asking the company to report on potential human rights violations in its global business, receiving 28 percent of the vote.

"If you're concerned about the nutrition, you can drive past McDonald's" said Michael Cain, a shareholder from Crystal Lake, attending the meeting with his wife, Janet. "Go home and make sure (your kids) eat what you want them to eat."

The couple, with four grown daughters, said they took the family to McDonaldaE s occasionally.

"It was a treat," Cain said. "It wasn't an everyday affair."

His daughters now use a similar strategy with his seven grandchildren, he said.

In addition to nutritional concerns, McDonald's is facing protests about worker pay. A couple dozen people stood outside the company's Oak Brook headquarters on the cold, wet morning to garner attention for a union effort to raise the minimum wage for retail workers in major cities to $15.

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(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune

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