McDonald's Grabs a Piece of the Apple Pie

'Healthy' menu changes threaten the health of biodiversity in apples


| April 7, 2005


A jogging-suit-clad Ronald McDonald plastered on packaging hints at the benefits of healthy eating, a rack of pamphlets entitled 'Taste, Choice and Balanced Eating' are on hand, and new items like carrot sticks, salads, and fruit bags are found on the menu. It's probably not the McDonald's you remember hearing about in exposes like Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me.

Maneuvering to avoid becoming the next Philip Morris of consumer health lawsuits, McDonald's is attempting to market itself as health conscious and has added a slew of healthy sounding additions to their menu, including Apple Dippers -- about 10 sliced and peeled apples with a calorie-boosting package of caramel sauce.

With the venture, McDonald's has become the largest purchaser of apples of any US restaurant chain and now wields enormous power over the industry. At an apple marketing conference last year, McDonald's told growers that if they wanted to do business with the company they should start growing cameo and pink lady apples.

Washington state, the largest apple-producing region in the US, answered the call by increasing its cameo crop by 58 percent from last year. If sales of Apple Dippers stay steady, McDonald's demand for uniformity and volume has the potential to decrease biodiversity in the region.

This change won't come overnight. The time-intensive nature of the apple growing business, along with the fickle tendencies of cameos and their susceptibility to disease, ensures that only the richest will be able to dish out the substantial up-front investment and wait years to see profits. And that means the diversity of apple farms could take a hit as well.

McDonald's role in the apple market will probably be similar to how it impacted potatoes and beef, according to Erik Nicholson, the regional director of the United Farm Workers Union.