McDonald's customers soon will suffer the kind of consumer response reserved for the purchase of a new car or a pair of designer shoes: sticker shock. It's not just for pricey items anymore.
The cost of McDonald's foods and drinks isn't changing. But the fast-food chain will soon display calorie information for each menu item, and the figures are bound to take some consumers by surprise.
For example, that little, basic hamburger, which helped start it all for the world's largest restaurant chain, contains 250 calories. It probably leaves you hungry for more, maybe an order of fries. Add 230. Thirsty? A small Coke is another 150. That meal is not much bigger than a McDonald's Happy Meal for a child, but it holds 630 calories, a big chunk out of the daily intake recommended for adults by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it doesn't include any fresh fruit or vegetables.
But wait, you say, McDonald's has those items on its menu. True. Small salads without cheese or chicken contain reasonable nutritional values, but the calories in some of its salads are belt-busting. Take the Southwest Salad with crispy chicken. With dressing, it contains 450 calories. Want fruit? The strawberry-banana smoothie packs 330 calories.
The good thing about McDonald's decision to post calorie content on its menus is that it helps consumers to pay attention to what they're eating. But it doesn't change the food, and too many of the items at McDonald's, and other fast-food restaurants, are too heavy on fat, sugar and salt and too light on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Posting the calorie counts may lead to a new McDonald's slogan: Let the buyer beware.