TIME food industry

McDonald’s Is Making a Huge Change to Its Chicken

McDonald's golden arches signs
Kristoffer Tripplaar—Alamy

The fast food giant is changing its sourcing policies

McDonald’s new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has pledged to reform the world’s largest restaurant chain into a “modern, progressive burger company.” He has taken a major step in that direction with today’s announcement that McDonald’s will stop selling chicken treated with antibiotics that are also used in drugs prescribed to humans. The overuse of those antibiotics is likely a major cause of the rise of “super bugs” that increasingly resist such drugs. Public-health advocates are hailing McDonald’s announcement as a major victory.

The phase-out will occur over the next two years, as McDonald’s works with its suppliers, which include the meatpacking giant Tyson Foods. Chickens used by McDonald’s will still be treated with antibiotics that aren’t used in medicine for humans.

Easterbrook started his new job just three days ago. This move is clearly intended to set the tone for his tenure as he takes on the massive challenges McDonald’s is facing.

A big part of that challenge is to revamp the company’s image. Mainly thanks to its size, McDonald’s is often made the whipping-boy for the ills of corporate America, and particularly the food industry. In any discussion of our unhealthy diets or our growing wealth disparities, it’s a safe bet that McDonald’s will come up, often along with Wal-Mart.

The decision on antibiotics, though, shows that McDonald’s still enjoys formidable industrial power. Few institutions can dictate terms to the powerful meatpacking industry, but that’s essentially what McDonald’s is doing here. And it means that other meat buyers will likely follow suit.

When it comes to chicken in particular, Chik-fil-A, as the country’s largest buyer of chicken, has even more clout. It announced a year ago that over the following five years, it would stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics of any kind.

The number of bacterial infections that resist antibiotics has leaped in recent years, with more than 2 million reported each year. About 23,000 people die from the infections. Public-health experts have long warned that the use of antibiotics in livestock is the main culprit.

Read next: 5 Reasons Why McDonald’s Will Win in 2015

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TIME Consumers

Why Annoyed Americans Are Signing This Online Petition

Vintage Cell Phone Collection
Jim Golden

People hate robocalls and want them to stop

More than 200,000 Americans have signed a petition asking telecom companies to provide tools for people to block commercial robocalls. Which is about as surprising as 200,000 people signing a petition against legalized murder.

The Consumers Union launched the petition at endrobocalls.com, just a week or so ago. The Federal Trade Commission says that if phone companies want to provide robo-blocking tools, they can. “Americans are fed up with being harassed by robocalls and they are demanding relief,” said Christina Tetreault, staff attorney for Consumers Union, in a statement. “The phone companies need to start listening and provide their customers with effective tools to block unwanted robocalls.”

The Consumers Union is the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

In 2014, the FTC received more than 3 million complaints about robocalls. Many of them (you might have heard from “Rachel from account services”) ran afoul of existing laws and regulations, such as the federal Do Not Call list. And many such calls originate overseas, out of the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities. About the only recourse consumers have is blocking numbers, when that’s possible.

In November, attorneys general from 39 states complained to the Federal Communications Commission, asking why phone companies don’t just block the calls. The phone companies responded that regulations forbade them from doing so. So the FTC sought input from the FTC, which in January said

Last month, though the FTC weighed in with an opinion: call–blocking by telcos is just fine since it would “make a significant dent in the problem of unwanted telephone calls.”

Hence the petition. The telcos have argued that blocking calls would run afoul of “common carrier” rules, which in general require them to accept all traffic, regardless of origin (similar to the concept of net neutrality). The FTC says that as long as customers opt-in and request the feature, telcos “can offer call-blocking services to their consumers without violating their common carriage obligations would be in the best interest of American consumers.”

The FCC is considering whether to issue an order forcing the telcos to make blocking technology available The FTC opinion will surely weigh heavily on that decision. It’s not clear when the decision will be made.

For now, other than making use of the call-clocking features offered by some handsets, consumers can file a complaint with the FCC, which has recently improved its help center.

TIME Companies

The Fascinating History of the Coca-Cola Bottle

Manufacture Of Coke Light Soft Drinks At The Coca-Cola Hellenic Plant In Cyprus
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Empty glass bottles of Coca-Cola Light, also known as diet Coke, travel along a conveyor belt ahead of filling at the Lanitis Bros Ltd. bottling plant, part of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Group, in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

The anniversary comes at a difficult time for the soda maker

Coca-Cola is making a lot of the 100th anniversary of its iconic bottle. Given what’s happening with soda sales generally, and Coke sales in particular, the festivities come at a delicate time.

The celebration of the bottle includes an ad campaign in more than 100 countries featuring Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Ray Charles, and an exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta called “The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100.” The exhibit will include “more than 100 objects, including more than 15 works of art by Andy Warhol and more than 40 photographs inspired by or featuring the bottle,” the company said in a statement.

Warhol, of course, was pilloried for his seeming embrace of consumerism though works like the Campbell Soup Cans and Coke Bottles, though of course it wasn’t that simple. The result was that the counterculture had infiltrated consumer culture, and vice versa. Warhol, who saw consumer products as having a leveling effect, said this about Coke:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

The original bottle was designed by the Root Glass Company in Indiana, nearly 30 years after the product was launched in 1886. Root won a contest where participants were challenged to “develop a container recognizable even if broken on the ground or touched in the dark.” Root’s design allowed consumers to recognize the product “even if they felt it in the dark,” according to Coke.

The celebration comes during a rough period for Coke. It has implemented a massive cost-cutting campaign. Its quarterly profits were down by 55%, it reported earlier this month. Meanwhile, sales of sugary soft drinks in general are plunging, having dropped by more than 20% between 2004 and 2014. In an effort to capitalize on consumers’ move away from sugar and toward protein, Coke has introduced Fairlife milk products. The bottles are pretty cool, but one can wonder if anybody will be celebrating them 100 years from now.

TIME Mobile

Beware Apps That Promise a Cancer Diagnosis

Apple Productivity Apps
Sean Gallup—Getty Images A shopper tries out the new Apple iPhone 6 at the Apple Store on the first day of sales of the new phone on Sept. 19, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

The government is cracking down on so-called "educational" apps

Given the questionable sales pitches that seem to drive Internet marketing for some apps, this statement uttered by an FTC official on Monday might seemed understated: “Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace.”

But some messages are beyond the pale. The official, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was referring to a couple of mobile-phone apps whose providers have claimed, without offering any proof, are able to detect the presence and severity of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The regulator on Monday announced actions against the makers of two such apps: Mole Detective and MelApp. The apps have been marketed with claims that, by analyzing user-taken photos, they can determine whether the risk of melanoma his high, medium, or low.

Although the apps, which were sold for $4.99 in 2011 and 2012, advised users to see a doctor if they had any serious concerns about their health, the FTC says they were sold as “diagnostic” tools. (The caveat about seeing a doctor apparently didn’t contain a caveat of its own, stating that if you should see a doctor if you’re worried about cancer, there is obviously no reason to buy and download an app.)

According to the FCC, thousands of people downloaded the pieces of software.

The company that marketed MelApp, Health Discovery Corp., will pay $17,063 as part of its settlements. New Consumer Solutions, which developed and marketed Mole Detective, will pay $3,930. That app was later purchased by the British firm L. Health Ltd., which has elected not to settle the FTC’s case against it because, it says, the original developer had guaranteed the app didn’t violate U.S. law.

Mole Detective shot up in popularity after it was featured on “The Dr. Oz Show,” according to a report in the Washington Post. L. Health Ltd.’s Avi Lasarow said that the app “always stated that it should be used for educational purposes…”

None of this activity means that smartphone apps aren’t already becoming powerful aids for diagnosis and health management. In the case of something like skin cancer, a doctor could surely review photos to determine whether or not a patient should come in for an examination. The key word there is “doctor.”

TIME Executives

Starbucks CEO: Giuliani’s Obama Remarks ‘Vicious’

Howard Schultz
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz participates in a forum in Washington on Nov. 10, 2014.

The outspoken chief executive responded forcefully to the former New York mayor's comments

Though he recently told TIME he has no personal political ambitions, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hasn’t stopped stepping into the political fray.

On Friday, Schultz issued a statement lambasting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Giuliani’s recent declaration that President Obama doesn’t love America. The comments were “vicious” and “profoundly offensive,” Schultz said.

Politico reported that on Wednesday, Giuliani was speaking at a private dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he said: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Schultz issued the following statement: “As an American, I find Rudy Giuliani’s vicious comments about President Obama ‘not loving America’ to be profoundly offensive to both the President and the Office.”

A Starbucks spokesperson on Friday morning said: “We are not providing any additional commentary around it.”

Schultz doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on political issues. In December, he raised some eyebrows when he addressed the shootings of black suspects by police offers. During an Open Forum at the Starbucks Support center in Seattle, he encouraged employees to talk about their own experiences with racism He released a video of that event, and, in a letter sent exclusively to TIME, he expressed his dismay over the situation. “I’m deeply saddened by what I have seen, and all too aware of the ripple effect,” he wrote.

Schultz has often decried the political gridlock in Washington. He has also addressed the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour. On that issue, he tends to be circumspect. Starbucks pays more than the minimum wage and offers healthy benefits packages. Schultz supports raising the federal minimum, but he has said that raising it by too much—say, to $15 an hour, as some activists have demanded—would put a crimp on businesses, and lead to lower benefits and layoffs.

 

TIME Retail

Wal-Mart’s Problems Go Beyond Underpaid Workers

An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.
Bloomberg—Getty Images An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.

The retail giant's customers are less and less satisfied with its services

Wal-Mart’s announcement on Thursday that it would start paying its employees more and training them better, and would invest more heavily in online operations, almost seems like it could have been a reaction to a survey released a day before, ranking the company as “the most hated retailer in America,” as several news outlets have put it.

It wasn’t, of course. Wal-Mart’s plans had clearly been in the works for quite a while. But those plans, announced as the retail giant issued fairly weak quarterly results, address some of the biggest reasons for Wal-Mart’s ranking at the very bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2014: poor service; messy or understocked shelves; and higher prices than many consumers expect.

The survey polled 8,700 consumers. It found overall satisfaction with retailers down by 1.4% over last year, mainly due to higher prices—a sudden reversal after three straight years of rising satisfaction. Wal-Mart’s score of 68 (on a scale of 100) was its worst since 2007, and continues a trend. In four of the past five years, it has scored the lowest of all department and discount stores. This year, it scored the lowest among all retailers. Just a decade or so ago, it regularly scored near the top.

On Thursday, Wal-Mart announced it would boost employee pay to a minimum of $9 an hour, which will put Wal-Mart’s lowest salaries 24% above than the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some 500,000 workers, or about a third of Wal-Mart’s U.S. work force (including at the Sam’s Club warehouse-store chain) will be affected. It will, of course, eat into profits. Wal-Mart said the short-term hit would yield longer-term benefits down the road, as happier, better-trained, longer-tenured employees will translate into more customer traffic. The wage hikes and improved training will cost Wal-Mart about $1 billion this year.

The action will result in average hourly full-time wages at Wal-Mart rising to $13 an hour from below $12 an hour. That’s still below the $15 per hour demanded by pressure groups, some including Wal-Mart workers, that have been seeking pay hikes from big retailers and fast-food chains.

Wal-Mart also pledged to invest more in its e-commerce operations. The ACSI report noted that even as overall satisfaction with retailers fell by 1.7%, satisfaction with online retailers rose by 5.1%, to 82 out of 100.

That was due in part to a dip in satisfaction the previous year due to a spate of delivery problems, particularly during the holiday season. Still, it points to a big problem brick-and-mortar retailers — even those, like Wal-Mart, with substantial investments in e-commerce: the convenience of online shopping is tough to beat. There’s no such thing as a surly employee or a messy shelf. And what you’re looking for is generally in stock.

Hence Amazon’s place at the top of the list, with a score of 86. In the discount and department store category that Wal-Mart belongs to, Nordstrom was tops, also with an 86. Target tied with Kohl’s at No. 3, each scoring an 80.

 

TIME Marijuana

This Event Will Teach Businesspeople How to Buy Pot

Marijuana Pot Weed
Getty Images

Certified cannabis financial analysts are standing by

There are many bits of stock-trading wisdom that, simply because they are both wise and obvious-sounding, have become clichés: “Buy low, sell high.” “Don’t catch a falling knife.” “Nobody ever went broke by taking profits.” The list goes on.

Now we might have a new one, thanks to the folks putting on an event for would-be investors in the newly emerging legal-pot business: “Be wary of marijuana companies that don’t exist.” So advises a press release touting the Marijuana Investment and Private Retreat.

“The average consumer hears all day long how the increasingly legalized cannabis industry is booming and a Mecca for aspiring marijuana business owners,” according to the release. “What they don’t hear, however, are ways ordinary citizens (e.g., non-millionaires) can also capitalize on this new industry by investing in marijuana stocks.”

Any seminar that had only the interests of “the average consumer” in mind would stop there and say, “Don’t invest in marijuana stocks at all unless you have a little cash that you’re totally OK with losing.” But that wouldn’t make for much of a retreat—it would be over before the mid-morning munchies set in.

To their credit, the event sponsors say they’ll “teach investors how to invest without falling for the many fraudulent stocks and scams that come with investing in a new industry,” and note that many pot stocks trade over the counter, and in some cases aren’t even backed by assets, much less revenue streams (that’s what they mean by companies that “don’t exist.”) Such stocks represent nothing more than ideas, if that. That includes nearly all pot stocks at the moment.

Keynote speaker Alan Brochstein, identified in the press release as a “certified cannabis financial analyst” and founder of 420 Investor, said: “Even those companies that file with the SEC have red flags that include complex capital structures, non-viable business plans, a lack of industry experience and leadership, and many other potential pitfalls.”

Other scheduled speakers are: Tripp Keber, founder of Dixie Elixirs; Wanda James, president of Cannabis Global Initiative; and Christie Lunsford, a consultant and a veteran in the marijuana business.

TIME Saving & Spending

This Will Change the Way You Use Your Visa Card Forever

American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are displayed for a photograph in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Credit-card firms caught off-guard by U.S. Senate passage of curbs on debit fees are facing what one executive sees as a "volcanic" eruption of legislation, including possible limits on interest rates. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg/Getty Images

It could majorly cut down on theft and fraud

This is one of those tech advances that are simultaneously cool and disturbing. Visa is adding a feature to the smartphone apps of member banks that lets banks know when a customer is traveling.

Convenient! This way, your card won’t be automatically declined just because you happen to be 50 miles or more away from home—a situation that can trigger an alert to a bank’s fraud department. Your bank, thanks to your phone’s location feature, will already know exactly where you are. Scary! Well, maybe.

It’s hard to decide. Fewer hassles are always good, of course. Nobody wants to be that poor sap standing hapless and red-faced at the checkout counter with a declined card. But do we really want our banks tracking our movements? (The financial crisis gave Americans plenty of reasons to think twice.)

Thankfully, the feature, Visa Mobile Location Confirmation, coming in April, will be entirely opt-in. Customers have to knowingly turn it on for it to work. Big Brother isn’t really so terrifying when you’re inviting him to watch you.

It’s entirely understandable that banks would want as many as people as possible to use the feature—they lose billions to debit- and credit-card fraud every year, and those numbers are on the rise. But the feature is not a panacea, of course. For instance, it won’t help if someone’s phone and bank card are stolen at the same time.

On balance, though, it seems like a net win for both banks and consumers.

TIME Regulation

Why Wal-Mart and Texas Are Headed for an Epic Showdown

141224_EM_walmart_1
Alamy

Two icons of "real" America are at loggerheads over a surprising issue

No state is more “real America” than Texas. No retailer is more “real America” than Wal-Mart. And no political opinion is more “real America” than “regulation bad.”

So it might come as something of a shock to learn that Wal-Mart stores in Texas are forbidden by law from selling booze—anything other than beer and wine. Wal-Mart is paying trial lawyers to sue the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the U.S. District Court in Austin, challenging the law that forbids all publicly held corporations, hotels excepted, from selling hooch. The law violates the U.S. Constitution, Wal-Mart argues.

“One class of retailers—public corporations—[is] denied an opportunity to compete in the distilled spirits market, while another class of retailers—private corporations and publicly traded hotel corporations—are allowed to compete without similar restriction,” Wal-Mart argues in the lawsuit. “No other state in the nation allows private corporations to engage in the retail sale of spirits but prohibits some but not all publicly traded companies from doing so.”

And indeed, the distinction does seem odd—”irrational,” as Wal-Mart puts it. But as it turns out, it’s just another instance of one business interest versus another. In the lawsuit, Wal-Mart singles out the Texas Package Stores Association as the lobbying group that has fought hard to keep the law in place. It represents about half of the state’s approximately 2,500 liquor stores.

No retailer in Texas is allowed more than five package-store permits, so any chain that’s any bigger is barred from selling any booze other than beer and wine from its sixth store on up. Except that there’s a loophole. Wal-Mart notes in the lawsuit that families are allowed to “pool their package store permits into a single entity and collectively obtain an unlimited number of package store permits.”

A Wal-Mart spokesperson pointed out to the Dallas Morning News what for many people would be the most obvious argument against the law: “This is counter to Texas’ belief in free enterprise and fair competition, limits our customers’ choice[s] and keeps the price of spirits artificially high, all of which harm Texas consumers.”

TIME Fast Food

Why Cinnabon Is Proud to Employ Saul Goodman

ÒLocalÓ: The After-School All-Stars Atlanta program extended its services to City of Refuge, a transitional living center for previously homeless women and children.Walt ThompsonElgin
Meg Buscema—Georgia State University/Chanell Kat Cole has been President of Cinnabon since 2010 (Photo courtesy of Kat Cole)

The pastry chain is embracing its star turn on the new Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul

In the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, bus-bench lawyer Saul Goodman, in fear for his life, prepares to change his identity and go into hiding. “If I’m lucky, a month from now, best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha,” he says, dejectedly.

And that’s exactly what happened, as revealed by last night’s premiere episode of the spin-off, Better Call Saul. Given that this is supposed to be a depressing development for Saul, and is meant to reveal how low he’s sunk (even lower than chasing ambulances), you might think Cinnabon would try to distance itself from the show as much as possible. Instead, it’s doing the opposite.

The chain is giving away one free “mini-bon” per person, packaged in boxes depicting the pathetic Saul, on Monday between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. at all 704 of its stores. Also, starting Monday, customers who tweet in-store selfies with the hashstag #SaulSelfie will have a chance to win a year’s worth of Cinnabon treats. (Who wants to lay odds that the winner will be an Omaha resident?)

Cinnabon had already proved itself more than willing leverage unflattering mentions of itself. Back when Saul first uttered what was a throwaway line on Breaking Bad, sixteen months ago, a Cinnabon manager in Omaha, with the backing of corporate HQ, hung a sign bearing the quote in his store window. And Cinnabon published a tweet directing Bob Odenkirk, who plays Saul, to its careers page.

Kate Cole, the president of Focus Brands, the affiliate of Roark Capital Group that owns Cinnabon and several other chains including Schlotzsky’s and Carvel, spent part of her Monday morning retweeting mentions of Cinnabon and Saul. The impressively young Cole (she’s 36), who was elevated in December from her position as Cinnabon president, clearly didn’t care that some of those tweets didn’t necessarily put Cinnabon in the best light. “You really need to screen your employees better” one tweeter advised Cinnabon, attaching a picture of a sinister-looking Saul Goodman manhandling a fistful of dough behind the counter.

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