- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp. yesterday said it will put nutritional information on the packaging of most of its food, from calorie-laden burgers to healthier salads.

The Oakbrook, Ill., hamburger chain will have the health information on most of its products by the first half of next year, the company said at a Chicago press conference.

“We are putting the information customers need literally into their hands,” said McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Skinner.

McDonald’s will be the first fast-food chain to put nutritional information on its food packaging.

Many fast-food chains for the past several years have put the nutritional information on their Web sites or on tray liners or brochures in their restaurants.

Analysts called the initiative a “full disclosure” by McDonald’s, which has been criticized for not posting readily available nutritional information on its food.

The nutritional information will be on the outside of sandwich wrappers and boxes, but not on beverage cups or foods like ice cream cones, said Cathy Kapica, McDonald’s global director of nutrition.

The updated packaging will feature a nutrition-facts panel, a bar chart and icons that represent the amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat and sodium in the food, Ms. Kapica said.

The reformatted menu items will debut in February at McDonald’s restaurants in Italy during the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Torino.

The company will begin using the new packaging at its roughly 13,000 U.S. restaurants shortly after the Olympics, Ms. Kapica said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington health advocacy group that has released scathing reports about fast food, said the initiative should be extended to McDonald’s menu boards.

The group has supported government bills that would require restaurant chains to put nutritional information on their menus.

“We hope that McDonald’s will upgrade its menu boards voluntarily,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson.

McDonald’s tested nutritional information on its menu boards, but found that consumers did not like the placement, Ms. Kapica said, adding that the company has no plans to alter its menu boards.

Consumer analyst Linda Bannister, with St. Louis investment bank Edward Jones, said she expected other fast-food chains to mimic McDonald’s.

“McDonald’s has been a leader in many respects, so we could see the same from other fast-food companies over time,” she said.

Ms. Bannister, who advised investors to hold their McDonald’s stock, does not own any company shares. Edward Jones has no banking relationship with the company.

CKE Restaurants Inc., the Carpinteria, Calif., company that operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. hamburger outlets, was evaluating a change in its packaging but had no immediate plans to do so, said spokeswoman Anne Hallock.

Hardee’s Monster Thickburger, with 1,410 calories and 107 grams of fat, has been a big seller since it was introduced about a year ago.

The Miami headquarters for burger-chain competitor Burger King Corp. was closed yesterday because of Hurricane Wilma, said a security guard who answered the company’s emergency line. Representatives were not available to comment, he said.

A spokesman for Dublin, Ohio, burger chain Wendy’s International Inc. did not return repeated calls for comment.

McDonald’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange closed yesterday at $33, down 12 cents from Monday’s price of $33.12.

At the McDonald’s restaurant in Union Station in Washington, patrons had mixed reactions to the news.

“It’s a bad business idea,” said Kwame Tuffuor, 60, of Ghana. “If they think they’re going to [use nutrition labels] to attract more people, they’re going to be in trouble. On the street, it’s regarded as junk food — carefully prepared food with the right kind of ingredients is generally expensive.”

Regardless, Mr. Tuffuor said he will continue to eat at McDonald’s regularly after labels are introduced.

Anna May Merriman, 52, of Deer Park Heights in Prince George’s County said she would be curious to know the calorie counts of the McDonald’s menu items.

“I, for one, care to know the nutrition facts of my breakfast,” said Miss Merriman, who says she eats at McDonald’s two to three times a week. “What do scrambled eggs do for you that makes you feel so good?”

Bethesda resident Jenny Hill, 21, said she wonders whether any nutritional facts besides calories would appear on the labels.

“If they don’t change their menu, there’s not going to be a lot of nutrition,” Miss Hill said.

Still, she said her decision to eat at McDonald’s will not be affected. “It’s based purely on economics — they sell cheap food.”

Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

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