Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Even a nine-year-old grills McDonald's CEO over menu

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NEW YORK -- McDonald's once again faced criticism -- including some sharp remarks from a nine-year-old girl -- at its annual shareholder meeting Thursday that it's a purveyor of junk food it markets to children.

The world's biggest hamburger chain has been looking to keep up with changing tastes as people increasingly opt for foods they feel are fresh or healthy. Customers can now order egg whites in its breakfast sandwiches, for example. McDonald's also recently introduced chicken wraps to lure people in their 20s and 30s looking for healthier options.

But on Thursday, McDonald's was taken to task by speakers associated with an advocacy group about its menu and advertising aimed at kids. As with other shareholder meetings where critics are given the rare chance to face executives, McDonald's Corp. allotted about a half-hour for attendees to ask CEO Don Thompson questions.

Among those was a nine-year-old girl who asked Thompson to stop "tricking kids into eating your food." Specifically, she called out the company's advertising for getting kids to "keep bugging their parents" for the food. The girl's mother echoed the request later, saying McDonald's undermines parents by marketing to children.

Another speaker asked McDonald's to remove its locations from hospitals, and others asked it to stop targeting communities of colour by signing stars such as Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and the NBA's LeBron James.

Three of the speakers were members of Corporate Accountability, which has been critical of the company's marketing practices. Others were health professionals, parents or writers linked to the group.

Thompson stood by the company's menu, saying McDonald's doesn't "sell junk food," pointing to items such as the yogurt parfait and side salad and noting the company has been adding more fruits and vegetables.

"The way you describe us is not who we are," he said. "We're not predators."

Thompson, who took over as CEO last summer, also noted that many of the company's 1.8 million employees are parents and his kids eat at McDonald's. He tried to offer a different perspective on the fast-food chain, saying his family couldn't afford McDonald's when he was growing up and his grandmother would promise to make him versions of the chain's food at home.

Still, he said at one point, "I do agree we have some issues, and we can be part of the solution."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2013 B6

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