critics of the food companies, eating and physical activity are personal choices but “the overall eating and activity of the population are a function of an environment that undermines personal control” (Brownell 2004: 958).
Marketing to children is a widely cited example of corporate malfeasance along with the phenomenon of “nutriwashing,” (i.e., making products seem healthier than they are) (Simon 2006). Children are directly targeted through commercials, in-store events, sponsored school programs, sports and youth star sponsorship, internet promotion, and text messaging (Lobstein 2007). Companies have minimized the negative impact of youth marketing, while maintaining business practices that appear to undermine their healthy food initiatives. Moreover, some studies have shown that even when healthier products are put on a fast-food menu, they are not being consumed (Darvin 2007). Understanding fast-food TNCs’ new strategies in the context of pervasive global production networks is needed. However, we should not ignore the possibility that food TNCs are making changes that are, or could, have a positive effect on the consumption habits of children.
Unlike their competitors, McDonald’s has chosen to focus solely on a one-brand image, their McDonald’s restaurant chain. Formerly, they owned Chipotle, Boston Market, and Donatos Pizzeria, but over the last five years they used their corporate strength solely for the McDonald’s restaurant brand. Although they have maintained a one-brand force, they were one of the original fast-food multinational to aggressively pursue overseas expansion.
In Figure 3, we see the rapid escalation in the number of McDonald’s restaurants outside the United States since 1994. Growth in the Asia-Pacific region is particularly strong. In 1994, the company had just over 2,000 restaurants in the region, but by 2000 that number had tripled. Europe has expanded as well, while Latin America has remained relatively steady. Overall, these figures show the strength of McDonald’s operations. As of 2007, they had a total of 31,377 system unit restaurants with nearly 18,000 of those in international localities. In 2008 they expect to open 550 traditional restaurants worldwide.