A nudge in behavioral economics is a small suggestion and/or behaviour reinforcement designed to help people make better choices, if not coined, then certainly popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book of the same name. McDonald’s is fast food I should eat less of, but given Warren Buffett and Bill Gates eat there regularly, too, my brain is making excuses to stop. Recently, I put nudge and McDonald’s together for an idea that could save the company money, and improve the lives of millions with the volume McDonald’s serves… and it even resembles something McDonald’s has done before!
It used to be that McDonald’s gave you ketchup with fries. For some reason/s, they stopped and people had to ask for ketchup with their fries, or get ketchup from a dispenser. I don’t know the reasons but they were probably good for business. Certainly, packaging wastage was avoided with those plastic wrapped ketchup packages compared to paper dispensing cups. Ketchup wastage itself also may have been avoided since some people didn’t want ketchup with fries, and some didn’t want as much as was generally given out, with yours truly being one who only need three packages for a medium fries that came with the meals but was often given four or more. Sure, some people dispensed way more than they needed, with just about everyone taking more since nobody liked to run out and have to come back, but it was probably beneficial to McDonald’s financially. Probably easier to supply jugs of ketchup, too, rather than boxes of packets of ketchups.
But outside of financial benefits to McDonald’s, there was probably some health benefits to consumers. Ketchup isn’t the healthiest thing to be consuming, to put it mildly, with its refined sugar and corn syrup. So any net reduction in ketchup consumption, likely true from a plausible presumption of people getting less ketchup from having to ask for it, and sometimes having to do without from forgetting to ask for it, will benefit consumers to be eating just a tad healthier. It seems a bit ridiculous to be talking health benefits to be eating McDonald’s, but every bit salvaged helps, you know!
So based on those things, here’s my nudge suggestion for McDonald’s. How’s about making fries without salt by default, so that if people wanted salt on their fries, they’d have to ask for it? It’s the same situation with the ketchup scenario, except that ketchup always had to be added to the fries by the consumer whereas salt was always, and still is, added by McDonald’s. You can ask for fries without salt, as I have been for over a decade now, but often have to wait a bit until the next batch of fries are made, scooped out for you, then have salt added for everyone else. The time waiting will be gained back in longer life if some unfortunate accident doesn’t cut it short. Also, other fast food chains offer fries without salt, so it’s not like anything unusual, nor any secret be stripped from the McDonald’s recipes for them to lose an edge. But imagine the benefit if most people ate fries from McDonald’s without salt! Given the impact of salt and the amount of fries McDonald’s serves, that would be a huge impact, even if only a little in each person’s life. But every little counts, right?
Now, would people care? Some would, of course! But let them ask for salt packets! They’ll get used to it knowing the option is there. I don’t think most would mind, though, and just go with the flow, justifying that the salt isn’t good for them anyway. Or take salt once in a while for a guilty pleasure. The move won’t make a financial impact for McDonald’s because salt is dirt cheap compared to everything else used in their kitchen, but it would give it some PR points for “doing the right thing” in one area. Everything counts, you know! The only thing that McDonald’s might have to worry about, though, in lawsuit heaven USA is that some poorly eating people might sue them for increasing their odds of disease increased by excessive salt consumption, as a way not to be accountable themselves for their own poor behaviour, of which the lack of accountability trait they have is the reason they are in their situations in the first place. That’s how I’d argue back, but let’s see if that would even happen. For now, how’s about it, McDonald’s? How’s about making fries without salt by default?