Ronald McDonald, a spokesman for McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD), has been mothballed. He began to make appearances for the fast-food giant in 1963. Although the company claims he still exists as a symbol for the company, he is barely visible, except as the name of the Ronald McDonald Houses for sick children. Although he has not been entirely replaced, the new, highly promoted images for McDonald’s include a farmer named Dirk. He is a lettuce supplier to the fast-food company, a new symbol of its commitment to healthier food. His face and his story grace the McDonald’s website, a hint of how important it is for the company to distance itself from the image of a provider of only fat, high-caloric food and drinks
Dirk Giannini says “the premium lettuce I grow” becomes “premium salad.” Apparently Dirk’s farm is in Salinas, the “Salad Bowl of the World.” The statement is grandiose, but McDonald’s has a grand problem. The section of the McDonald’s site that talks about Dirk’s life and work includes a “field to fork” video from YouTube, and an opportunity for a virtual tour of Dirk’s farm.
Dirk’s story is joined by others about the quality of the beef, apples, fish and potatoes McDonald’s uses, all from the heart of America’s farmland.
Less visible at the McDonald’s site are menus for its restaurants. One section is devoted to the company’s salads, which are relatively low in calories. However, these do not make up most of the menu. Hamburgers with calorie counts as high as 700 do. These are also full of sodium and fat. Ingredients in most soft drinks and shakes are no better, at least as far as healthy eating is concerned.
Dirk may be the new symbol of McDonald’s. It management believe it needs one. As Americans turn away from fatty foods and toward healthier ones, McDonald’s same-store sales have fallen. This may not be entirely cause and effect. Many Americans can neither resist fast food nor afford better. But Dirk is there at the McDonald’s website as a reminder that McDonald’s has reformed its menu, even if by just a little.