McDonalds oatmeal: Healthy breakfast or marketing sham?

A photo of a cup of McDonald's oatmeal.

McDonald's oatmeal looks nutritious, until you read the label. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Amy Rainey/Mason-Dixon Magnolia)

McDonald’s has introduced its new oatmeal to appeal to consumers seeking a healthy breakfast, and the fast food giant markets it as a “bowl full of wholesome.” But as New York Times Magazine food columnist Mark Bittman suggests, all may not be as full of healthy, all-natural goodness as advertised.

McDonald’s oatmeal: Not so healthy, not so cheap

McDonald’s, which reportedly boasts sales of more than $16.5 billion per year – nearly the GDP of Afghanistan – knows how to market its products, oatmeal included. While McDonald’s oatmeal seems healthy on the surface – it has much less grease than a Sausage McMuffin – the door is wide open for the restaurant chain to play with the descriptive verbiage in the same way food marketers have for more than 40 years, writes Bittman.

Sweetening the competition

Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal is a classic example. It contains no strawberries or cream but a boatload of sugar and artificial flavors. Unfortunately, McDonald’s oatmeal falls into the same boat when the ingredients are scrutinized; “cream” that includes nothing dairy and “natural flavor” are just the beginning. Sugar is a main ingredient because McDonald’s oatmeal must be sweet enough to compete with rival Starbuck’s “Perfect Oatmeal.”

It also doesn’t hurt McDonald’s bottom line that it charges roughly $2.30 for the 9.2-ounce oatmeal cup. That much oatmeal and a tiny sampling of dried fruit costs one-tenth as much when you make it yourself.

Mental trigger of convenience

A common justification for enjoying McDonald’s oatmeal is convenience, but even that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. To get McDonald’s oatmeal, you have to go there, wait in line, order, wait, pay and leave. In as much time, you could make instant oatmeal with fruit at home and have time for juice and the morning paper.

McDonald’s assertion that its FMO (“fruit and maple oatmeal”) can be made healthier simply by giving customers the choice to opt out of cream and brown sugar ignores the fact that the oatmeal contains a whopping 21 ingredients, many of them chemical and unnecessary. Leeway for minor customization doesn’t change that. As Bittman suggests, it’s all about getting McDonald’s customers to come back for more.

Sources

McDonald’s oatmeal ingredients

New York Times

Starbucks

Don’t oatmeal and drive

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