Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s once again faced criticism that it’s a purveyor of junk food that markets to children at its annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
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 go after people in their 20s and 30s looking for better-for-you options.
But at its shareholder meeting Thursday, McDonald’s was taken to task by speakers associated with an advocacy group about its menu and marketing toward kids. As with other shareholder meetings, McDonald’s Corp. allotted about a half-hour for anyone who owned its stock to address its top executives.
Among those was a 9-year-old girl who asked CEO Don Thompson to stop “tricking kids into eating your food.” Later on, the girl’s mother echoed the request, saying McDonald’s undermines parents by marketing to children.
Another speaker asked that McDonald’s remove its locations from hospitals, while others asked it to stop targeting communities of color by signing stars such as Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and the NBA’s LeBron James.
Three of the individuals 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 out items such as the yogurt parfait and side salad and noting that the company has been adding more fruits and vegetables to its menu.
Thompson, who took over as CEO this past summer, also noted that his kids eat at McDonald’s and that many of its 1.8 million employees are parents.
Still, he said at one point, “I do agree we have some issues, and we can be part of the solution.”
Of course, other fast-food chains such as Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell aren’t exactly paragons of healthy eating. And plenty of smaller, mom-and-pop restaurants sell food with just as many calories and fat as a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. But with more than 14,000 U.S. locations, McDonald’s is an easy target because of its size and has become a symbol of processed foods in American culture.
The criticism is far from new but its persistence illustrates the uphill battle McDonald’s faces in trying to evolve its image and stay relevant. After years of outperforming its rivals, the company has been struggling to increase sales more recently. Last month, McDonald’s said sales at restaurants open at least a year fell 1 percent for its first quarter. That marked the first quarterly decline for the figure in a decade.
McDonald’s has blamed its troubles in part on the broader economy, saying the restaurant industry was flat to declining in the past year. But the company is also pushing to improve the image of its food at a time when chains such as Chipotle, Panera and Subway are gaining popularity.
McDonald’s is also enduring criticism that it still markets to children.
Despite Thompson’s claims that the company doesn’t target children in schools, Corporate Accountability noted that McDonald’s has moved much of its marketing online where it’s harder for parents to monitor what kids see. Nick Guroff, a spokesman for the group, also said that commercials featuring Gabby Douglas and LeBron James are directed at kids.
Corporate Accountability in recent years had pressured McDonald’s to stop using Ronald McDonald to market to children. Thompson on Thursday noted that the company isn’t using Ronald “the way it used to” but nevertheless stood by the mascot.
“Ronald is not a bad guy — he’s about fun, he’s a clown,” Thompson said. “So I’d ask all you to let your kids have fun, too.”
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Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)