Roy Bergold: Tales from McDonald’s | May 2012 | By Roy T. Bergold Jr.

The Healthy Choice

We’ve still got a problem with portion control in the industry, and the real issue might be in the choices we offer.

Smaller-portion options, like sliders, give customers control over health.
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I've got an equation for you. Obesity equals the wrong types of food plus the wrong preparations plus excessive quantities times diminished exercise.

In other words, if the food is there, customers will eat it. That's why the issue of quantity and portion control are such hot topics in the industry today.

Do we listen to our customers who seem to want large portions, or those who criticize us for seemingly no portion control? Or are they the same person?

The 2004 movie "Super Size Me" sort of started all this consternation. In my opinion, the premise of the movie is nuts. No one should eat 90 meals of McDonald's food in 30 days. The company would not want you to do this. Heck, if you ate nothing but carrots for 30 days, you would be orange. But the movie suggested that the more you use restaurants, the more obese you will be.

Large sizes come from the mistaken idea that value is equal to lots of stuff. A component of value should be whether it is good for you, as well as whether it is filling, and offered for a fair price. This brings us to the heart of the problem. Our boys in Washington want restaurants to serve less food but customers seem to be buying more. Maybe that's because they don't have the right choices.

As my editor, Sam, pointed out in a January 2011 QSR article on portion size: In 1954, a quick-serve burger was 3.9 ounces. That number has since grown to a range of 4.4–12.6 ounces. Even at the low end, that is a 13 percent increase in size. Bet you wouldn't want to be 13 percent bigger.

I read an article recently in the Arizona Republic from the Associated Press. A group of researchers studied portion sizes served to diners at a Chinese fast food restaurant. When offered a half size of rice or noodles that saved 200 calories, half the diners took it, even though the half size cost the same as the full size. I wonder how this was presented and whether the diners did it because it's understood you're supposed to take and eat less. Still, I wonder.

Also in that study, those who took the half size didn't take a larger entrée to make up for it. And those who took the half size threw away the same amount of food as those who took the full size. Go figure.

Finally, a 25-cent discount on the half size didn't get more takers. And they got no more takers when they added calorie-count signage. This shouldn't surprise anyone.

The authors of the study made the point that portion size is out of control when you consider that the large-size drink of 15 years ago is the small size today. They also point out that kids were happy with half the fries in their Happy Meal even before McDonald's downsized the fry order in the meal.

The authors also talked about the color of packaging and plates as extremely important to how much food people take. People took 18 percent more pasta with red sauce on a red plate than a white one. Stark contrast apparently makes you think twice.

They concluded by offering the idea that we should call portion control right sizing instead of downsizing. It's the right thing to do.

There's no question in my mind that we need to do something about portion control and sizing. Why is it a good thing to do for restaurant owners? Here's my take.

You'll make more money. People expect to pay more for the small size. Large always costs less per ounce. There will also be less food waste that you have to deal with.

Try serving something akin to tapas. People will try more items. It'll help alleviate the guilt of throwing away leftovers. Sampling will be easier because folks will want to try more of your foods. You'll save money on carryout containers. You'll also save on package size, storage, and shipping weight. And you should realize savings on food cost.

I have some other ideas you can look at. You know I never leave you with a problem and no solutions. But I never said all the solutions were good.

With flexible items, like fries and nuggets, let the customer pick the size and pay per ounce. Let adults be comfortable ordering kids' meals. No snickering when a strapping 20-something orders a Happy Meal. He just wants the toy, anyway.

If you don't have one, put together a seniors' meal. We don't want a lot of food and we hate to throw food away. I know someone who has things in the back of the refrigerator that defy chemical analysis.

My wife and I love a local restaurant that has a smaller sharing menu. Two sliders and a cut-down order of fries is just perfect for a smaller meal for us. Only kicker? They charge to split it up. You shouldn't do that. But we go there much more often because we know we don't have to order a ton of food.

Always eat on Grandma's plates. Plates were smaller back then and less food looked huge. So use smaller plates and packages. It saves on detergent and paper, too.

Watch the color of your plates and packaging per their pasta research. The right colors can make the food more satisfying. Have the bun fit the patty; saves on food cost and calories. Educate and market that less is better. Get a cause-marketing program that rewards double for smaller sizes.

You may not be able to affect how much exercise someone does, and choice of food and preparation may not be within your decision power, but you can affect quantity by offering right-size choices of the products you have.

Let's help our customers to the right amount of food. Bet they come back more often knowing they have a choice.

Happy Trails and a Peaceful Life.

Roy Bergold

Roy started his career at the Leo Burnett Company in 1967. Two years later he decided to sell hamburgers instead, and began his adventure at McDonald’s. Starting as an assistant advertising manager, he became manager, national advertising manager, director of advertising and promotion, assistant vice president of advertising and promotion, and vice president of advertising.

Roy retired from McDonald’s in 2001 as Chief Creative Officer. Along the way, he was responsible for U.S., as well as all advertising worldwide. While under his care, McDonald’s earned every creative award possible, including Cannes, Clios, and the Four A’s best five year campaign. Roy lives happily in Payson, Arizona, with his wife, dogs, and horses.