It has been one of the core problems for the pubic relations industry since the beginning – to find a balance between the harsh truth of business and the softer side of corporate responsibility. This challenge becomes exponentially harder when the heart of a company, the product they sell, is seen to many Americans as bad, gross and disgusting, to name a few. This is the predicament faced by America’s fast-food chains. For many years, the food products from fast-food restaurants (the term restaurant is used loosely) have been criticized as being unhealthy, fattening and sometimes even inedible. Taco Bell is under suit for its lack of “meat” in its ground beef products. So how do the PR departments of fast-food restaurants, like Taco Bell, counter the poor images and bad reputations about their companies?
One industry spokeswoman, Beth Mansfield, decided to taking the blunt route stating, “The bottom line is we’re in the business of making money, and we make money off what we sell.” The Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chain spokeswoman continued by explaining, “If we wanted to listen to the food police and sell nuts and berries and tofu burgers, we wouldn’t make any money and we’d be out of business.” These comments come from an LA Times article that asks the question, how much responsibility should fast-food restaurants take in preparing healthy, or less unhealthy, meals? An answer to this question is by no means simple, and I don’t have one, but let’s look at some possible perspectives.
It is all about the bottom line. Period. In the same tone of the comments made by Mansfield, the fast-food industry is a business and in any business, it is all about the money. The goal of most companies is to bring in customers to buy their product, regardless of the perception of that product. Carl’s Jr. and other fast-food chains will continue to produce food that customers demand – all to make that great big pile of green dough.
It is an individual’s choice, not a company’s responsibility. It is neither the job nor the responsibility of a company to protect its customers from its own product. If the product is in fact unhealthy, then it is up to the individual customer to make a conscious decision not to eat at that establishment. Fast-food is not the only option. A company has a right to serve what they choose and an individual customer has the right to not eat there.
If the food is so cheap, then why not sell less for less money? Many critics believe that one reason fast-food is so popular is in the fact that it is dirt cheap. A low-income household can feed a family of four for fewer than $25. You can get a lot of food for a small amount of money. But this is also why many believe fast-food is so horrible, it overloads you with food and calories no one needs. So it makes sense to reason that fast-food restaurants could sell the same product, just less of it and for fewer dollars.
So what effect, if any, did Mansfield’s comments make? While I wouldn’t call the comments positive, they are not negative either. They’re just real, and I can applaud that.