McDonald's Food Has A Healthy Glow, At Least In China

Here in the U.S., McDonald's food is not usually considered all that healthy. But in China, it is.

That's because Chinese consumers trust American brands more than their own, says Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research, who studies Chinese consumer behavior. Rein says that in China, McDonald's is seen as providing safe and wholesome food.

Rein talked with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about a new Chinese McDonald's ad campaign. The ad (see screen grab above) uses brightly colored vegetables and rain falling on tomatoes to reinforce McDonald's healthful image in China.

"They wanted to use nice, healthy, looking food for the Chinese consumer because the Chinese are petrified of the food supply chain," Rein says. Rein reassures us that Chinese consumers know that much of the McDonald's menu is high in fat. And there's no denying that obesity is a growing problem in the China, as it is worldwide.

But, "in a country that deals with food scandals seemingly on a daily basis, like melamine in milk, people are gravitating towards McDonald's and other Western fast food brands because they trust them as being healthy," said Rein.

So McDonald's in China is bolstering the image of its food as "wholesome, clean, hygenic food," Rein says. That's probably a pretty easy sell because of its factory-like production systems, compared to Chinese street vendors, who sometimes rely on used cooking oil from the sewers, he says.

The big burger chain is still competing to reach the prowess of Pizza Hut in China, where the atmosphere is considered nice enough to host a business meeting or go out on date night. But, Rein says, thanks to renovations in the past two years, McDonald's is on its way.

When asked how McDonald's will fare in China's slowing economy, Rein says McDonald's sales are up, but it should be worried about the encroachment of other Western brands like Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King, and Krispy Kreme who have all announced major investments in the China market.

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