US fast food group McDonald's, which recently reported its first ever quarterly losses, is the latest multinational to jump onto the organic bandwagon in the UK. The international fast food chain announced earlier this month that it is to start selling organic milk in its British restaurants from February onwards.
In recent years, BSE outbreaks in Europe and Japan have knocked the fast food industry. The blows have been compounded by the negative image that fast food is inextricably linked to obesity - a serious health risk.
UK market analysts Organic Monitor report that consumers are increasingly shying away from fast food and opting for healthier alternatives like sandwiches. In the UK, the market share for fast foods has been eroded by cafés and sandwich shops like Pret A Manger, which offer fresh sandwiches, soups and wholesome snacks.
McDonald's, writes Organic Monitor, is aiming to buck this trend by using healthier ingredients. It has introduced lower-fat sauces, diet drinks, sweeteners and promotional salads. Its switch to organic milk is part of a strategy to give the fast food chain a healthier and more environmentally-friendly image.
Organic milk will be sold in all its restaurants from 2 February onwards - semi-skimmed organic milk will be available in 250ml bottles and certification will be provided by the UK organic certification body, the Soil Association.
Organic Monitor, welcoming McDonald's move, believes this may serve to ease current overcapacity in the British organic dairy sector. If successful, it could create a demand for over 1 million litres of organic milk in 2003.
But the market analysts claim that the move is unlikely to affect the image of McDonald's. Apart from the generally poor image of fast food, many consumers are shunning American companies like McDonald's because they perceive them to be a symbol of American capitalism. American multinationals like McDonald's and Nike have long borne the brunt of anti-globalisation protestors because of this perception.
The US coffee chain Starbucks is another American company that has suffered from a poor image. The international chain was regularly targeted by protestors in the US until it made a concerted effort to change its image - to appease consumers it has introduced Fairtrade coffee beans into its coffee shops, as well as organic milk.
The trend towards healthy eating and ethical purchasing suggests that McDonald's will have to do much more than offer organic milk to strengthen its image, writes Organic Monitor. Marketing organic milk is a step in the right direction but consumers will not patronise the restaurant just to buy organic milk. According to the market analysts, launching more organic products, and possibly an organic burger, backed by marketing campaigns would do wonders for the ailing image of McDonald's. Undoubtedly heads are currently joined at the McDonalds boardroom table to come up with solutions to the downward trend in earnings - will organics be a chosen path?