The Fast Food Industry Challenges


Fast foods companies are amongst the multinationals that are at the moment experiencing a high rate of expansion. These companies are characterized by quick service (Royle & Brian 2002, p. 2). At fast-food restaurants, food is served upon ordering with the option of either eating at the premises or carrying the food as take away. The most common example of a multinational fast-food chain is McDonald’s.

At the moment, it is estimated that Mcdonald’s has over 50,000 outlets all over the world, a majority of which are in the form of franchises (Royle & Brian 2002, p.1). Other examples of multinational fast food companies include Wendy, Col. Sanders, KFC, Subway, and Starbucks, amongst others. Fast-food chains have had a great impact on society. For example, they offer convenient and affordable food. As a result, an increasing number of individuals frequents them to save on time that would have otherwise been used in food preparation. However, multinational fast foods have not been without criticism from political, environmental, and social points of view.

They are largely blamed for having played a significant role in the rising cases of obesity and the associated health complications such as heart diseases. In addition, fast-food chains have also been accused of oppressing their employees through meager salaries (Royle & Brian 2002, p.1). How multinational fast foods such as McDonald’s deal with the challenges they face have to be strategic and wise if at all they are keen on maintaining a good image in the eyes of the public. This is because there are opponents who believe that these multinationals are the creators of their won problems. Therefore, they should also be seen to find a lasting solution to these problems.

There have been instances whereby multinational fast food has used their political influence to try and escape from the challenges facing them as opposed to try and find a lasting solution that would also place them in good stead in the eyes of the public and most importantly, in the eyes of their customers.

Political Challenge to fast foods

The fast-food industry has been politically challenged by exploiting their employees through payment of very low salaries compared with other industries. These firms have been having a lot of problems with their labor force concerning strikes and go-slows which are politically instigated. The labor unions and the political activists have been leading workers in protest over poor pay and working conditions. The McDonald’s fast-food chains and Wendy’s fast foods have been accused of sourcing for cheap labor that could easily be replaced. This has resulted in contributing significantly to the growth of insecure jobs and low-paying jobs (Royle & Brian, 2002, p.1).

The firms have also denied the workers access to representation at the labor unions (Boyle & Brian, 2002, p.2). The fact that the workers can be fired at will upon making a mistake is a criticism that the food chains are facing today (Royle & Brian, 2002, p.2). Politically, fast foods chains have been on the receiving end of human rights activists who accuse them of overexploiting their employees. In this case, fast-food chains have been accused by the human rights groups of infringing on the rights of the workers, providing them with unfit working conditions, and offering them a dismal pay package.

There are also reported cases whereby the workers have had to undergo medical check-up as a result of work-induced stress and other health complications (Royle 2002, p. 2).

Response to political challenge

The firms have responded to this criticism by constant evaluation of the worker’s employment conditions and provision of incentives to increase employees’ satisfaction. MacDonald’s has also come up with measures that are aimed at awarding their employees for a paid vacation every one year. However, the sustainability of this program has been under scrutiny considering that a few years after it was introduced, the company came up with new rules of employment at will. The Wendy fast foods have not been able to offer such benefits to its employees although the management has come up with minor adjustment s which includes giving of rewards to best-performing employees. (Royle & Brian, 2002, p.2).

In the fast-food industry, brand recognition is what matters most. In this case, advertisement plays a big role in eliminating bad perceptions about a certain brand. For instance, the McDonald’s brand is well recognized in the industry. In this case, the hotel can make its big industry rather massive through advertising (Luxenberg 1985, p.34). This will help keep away the critics and remove unwanted attention from health institutions and also strengthen customer loyalty.

Conducting massive promotions is the other way of the response of fast food industries to their critics. They factor in their budgets a good amount of money to be used for promotion. The other strategy here is to adapt to the attitudes of the public to eventually win their confidence. Promotions help create more awareness and also may strengthen the brand. Customer loyalty is also maintained high.

The social challenge to fast foods

Fast-food chains, though having a positive impact on the growth of the economy and provision of employment, are faced with social challenges. These challenges come in the form of criticism regarding their contribution to social and health problems. The most common criticism relates to the unhealthy foods they deal in that are thought to cause obesity thereby increasing the rates of heart attacks and diabetes. The fat and sugar levels in these foods are too high and therefore, the food is unhealthy from a nutritional point of view. Furthermore, fast foods contain less fiber with minimal nutritional value (National Institutes of Health 2004, par. 4).

These foods are highly addictive as those who consume them regularly are known to get hooked on them. As a result, cases of obesity are now on the increase, not to mention the rise in heart-related diseases. All these health complications are attributed to the increased consumption of fast foods. In 2003, a family in the United States filed a case against McDonald’s accusing the food chain of playing a contributory role in their daughter’s obesity status. The obesity issue has been championed by various scholars such as Eric Schlosser who wrote a book in 2001 showing how fast foods have affected the lives of Americans negatively.

He explained the scathing indictment that consumption of the industry’s products has affected the health of Americans (Schlosser 2001, p. 36). Morgan Spurlock also came up with a movie named surprise me that demonstrated the physical effects of consuming McDonald’s products for a month, three times a day thus creating a bad attitude on people towards fast foods. The other blow to the industry was bad publicity that portrayed fast foods as the main cause of obesity amongst children and adults, a health problem that is now quite rampant not just in the United States, but in all the other developed countries as well. Obesity has become a national pandemic and fast food chains are regarded as the main cause.

Respond to social challenge

As a recommendation, the fast-food chains should strictly show the ingredients contained in the food, which is the amount of fat, sugar, and calories that are contained in the kinds of foods that they deal with. The management at McDonald’s ensures that the customer knows the food contains high calories of energy, sugar, and fat and with their new labeling the customer would have to do the calculations to ascertain this claim (Warner & Alexei 2005, p.1).

Other food chains like Wendy have so far not taken any substantial action since they have not been on the receiving end to the same level as MacDonald’s. There are also other ways that the fast-food industry has responded to the criticisms as discussed below, and they are a comparison of the common approach taken by these giant food chains.

The New York national restaurant associations CEO, Anderson, started by denying the accusations against the four first foods giants, that is McDonald,

KFC, Wendy’s and BK, of being responsible for obesity cases. He claimed that the accusations were not sensible and were just meant to give the hotels a bad name by capitalizing on the obesity epidemic. On the contrary, these hotels market foods with high levels of sugar and fat, the major cause of obesity. In addition, fast foods are also highly addictive. This critique is true because the plaintiff claimed that these hotels market unhealthy foods to create addiction, an accusation that Anderson rejected, claiming that food can never be addictive and should not be linked to anything addictive (Hogan 1997, p.19).

However, we now know through scientific evidence that foods or soft drinks like sodas, which have caffeine (for example, coke) can be addictive and the amount of sugar in these drinks is excessively high. There seem to be legitimate claims by consumer groups and parents that the fast-food industry is responsible for selling unhealthy food. For instance, McDonald’s, the most accused fast-food giant, is accused of purposely selling unhealthy food. The hotel spends a lot of money on advertisements targeting children.

The other response relates to McDonald’s act of making happy meals healthier by reducing what is regarded as unhealthy. According to Roberts and colleagues (1979, p. 39), it is done through the addition of apple slices, milk, and other enriching components to make fast foods healthier. They also came up with new happy meals which have reduced fat and calorie content to make them healthier. This is criticized that it did not solve the problem because they increased the sugar content on the other hand. The increasing sugar content can create more problems because children living with diabetes might develop other more complicated diseases like obesity.

Environment challenge to fast foods

The other criticism that these food chains face is that of packing their food in materials that can not be recycled. In 1990 McDonald’s was faced with criticism over their packaging materials which were reportedly non-recyclable (Victoria Advocate newspaper 1990, p. 23). The fast-food chain was criticized that the kind of paper they used for packaging was not recyclable. This is an environmental issue that contributed to the degradation of the environment, seeing that MacDonald’s also used non-recyclable plastic bags as food packages.

Respond to environmental challenge

The firms have responded to environmental challenges through the adoption and use of eco-friendly packaging materials, the food chains have since resorted to the use of recyclable packaging materials. Consequently, McDonald’s has since started to use napkins and ‘happy’ boxes made from recycled fiber as part of its packaging material. This was in response to the criticism that it was contributing towards environmental degradation by using non-recyclable packaging material (Victoria Advocate Newspaper 1990, p. 23).

Many firms such as Wendy have also changed their packaging materials in line with the demand to use biodegradable materials. The firms have adjusted their waste disposal mechanism either through recycling of the waste or by disposing of it in composite pits and proper treatment of the wastes to accelerate their decay process (McDonald’s Green Marketing Effort 2009, par.1).

The firms have also responded to the environmental challenge by overshadowing the criticism and portray a different picture concerning the industry. First, the industry changed the advertisement and focussed on health and fitness advertisements. The idea here was to cover the claim that fast foods were responsible for the obesity pandemic. The advertisement demonstrated fast foods are a vital component of a healthy lifestyle, contrary to the allegations that they cause obesity. This redressed the damage and encouraged people to take more fast foods. The other response is presenting to customers healthier menu choices like salads to change the mentality created in the minds of people that fast foods are unhealthy (Schlosser 2001, p. 31).

This strategy has proved quite deceptive because the salad also contains high fat and calories content. For instance, the Bacon Ranch Salad contains about 510 calories a lot of sodium and other hydrogenated oils that will still have the potential to cause health complications. The strategy is therefore meant to deceive people to continue consuming fast foods claiming that they are better than before.

The other strategy is emphasizing brand instead of remaining focused on the product. The focus is shifted towards creating a strong brand and increasing brand awareness instead of focusing on the product and its use. Creating strong awareness will ensure that the brand survives the market for a long time. The focus is shifted from showing the subject to consume the product but to make them believe in the product and have confidence in them. This withdraws any negative feeling about the product from their minds.

Conclusion and recommendation

The criticisms alleged to these firms are true. Although the firms have responded to these criticisms, they are not genuine in the way they handle and solve these challenges. Fast-food chains are multinationals that capitalize on selling quick-service food. These foods are known to contain high levels of fat, sugar, and calories. They are in high demand and so they require being prepared in bulk. There are a lot of criticisms that relate to social, environmental, and political.

They are blamed for causing the state of obesity in most of the countries they operate in. Due to their high demand, they also draw criticism in the way they exploit the workers and giving them low pay for their labor. They are also a threat to environmental health and welfare due to the kind of paper they use to pack their foods, though they are trying to shift to recyclable materials rather than plastic.

My recommendation is that the firms should disclose all the relevant facts about the benefits and the limitations of consuming their products to the health of the consumers. With relevant facts, a person can rightly decide what is good or bad for his or her health. Their adverts should also be abolished since they target the children who may not have the necessary and adequate information on the dangers of unhealthy eating. Warning on excessive consumption of these fatty foods with high amounts of sugar should also be well communicated on the labels and the menus of these foods, just like in tobacco. This would reduce the level of publicity that these food giants have and also check on the influence they have on food consumption patterns.

The government should also formulate severe penalties for firms that do not meet the required environmental standards. Firms that continue to use materials that are not biodegradable in the packing of their foods should be banned from operations. The government should set out a minimum wage for these firms to adopt so that workers are not exploited. They should be allowed to join trade unions so that their demands can be addressed in a better way.

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