McDonald’s peanut scandal: is this a Didn’t See It Coming moment?

Today, we woke up with the news that McDonald’s had decided to launch a new McFlurry with loose nuts – instead of the standard pre-packaged nuts. In a heartbeat, social media lit up as parents of children with peanut allergies decried the move as traitorous.

Was this a Didn’t See It Coming moment? Did McDonald’s know what it was doing? Why did the food giant turn its back on so many of its core consumers?

CFAX 1070 Radio asked me to weigh in on the move. Here’s the interview.


McDonald’s decision to launch with loose nuts in their food could create a lasting dent in the brand. After all, they’re slapping a large part of their core audience – children – in the face, telling them they can’t come in.

Even if this decision was weighed and deemed a reasonable risk, it’s hard to quantify what might happen if a small child is photographed having a peanut allergy attack. It took Audi 20 years to recover from its accelerator malfunction scandal – and that was without real time photos of suffering children.

The proper way to launch a controversial measure is to pick a small, obscure test market. McDonald’s knows this – they do it all the time. So why this national launch?

What we’re seeing at this moment is a classic social media flash fire – hot, but probably short in duration. Perhaps the flames will be diminished by the mounting evidence that children should in fact be exposed to peanuts at an early age.

Quotable quotes

“You need to know your audience. McDonald’s audience is kids. Would any brand want to tell a large number of their core customers that they couldn’t eat their food anymore?”

“This is probably an operational decision. It costs less to serve crushed nuts than individually wrapped nuts. And McDonald’s is weighing that decision against the costs associated with hostility toward the brand. But what happens if a little kid has a peanut allergy reaction – and someone catches it on their phone? And it goes viral?”

“People have a hard time empathizing with other people. But children change the equation. We didn’t really feel for the Syrian refugees until we saw that photo of the little boy drowned at the shore. Does McDonald’s want that sort of imagery burned into their consumers’ minds?”

“McDonald’s is a smart company. And when they experiment with new ideas, it’s usually in a small test market. Not a market the size of Canada.”

“We need to weigh McDonald’s decision against the new research that it’s important to expose our kids to peanuts at a young age. Still, not sure if McDonald’s should be weighing in on this issue so forcefully.”

Honorable Mentions

Audi – The faulty accelerator recall

SunChips – The compostable bag scandal

The Founder – Film about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY – available now.

Add Comment