Open Letter To McDonald’s Canada

Dear McDonald’s Canada,

You had me …

I’ve been loyal to the McDonald’s brand ever since I can remember. As a child, many of my birthday parties were at McDonald’s. I grew up knowing Grimace, Birdie, the Hamburglar, the Fry guys and Ronald McDonald. I recited commercials, sang about the ingredients in a Big Mac, and still talk about how much I loved the pizza. I even ate McDonald’s after my prom.

Once school was done and after a short stint in Montreal, I moved back to Toronto and found my dream job at the Head Office of McDonald’s Canada. I was young, energetic and excited to help build a brand that I believed in. The company was generous and I worked with passionate and intelligent people. We were motivated and aspired to bring innovative menu items and marketing programs to our customers. I had the honour of interacting with and learning from George Cohon, the kind and outgoing visionary that founded McDonald’s Canada. It was only for professional reasons that I felt the need to move on, but the “ketchup continued to run through my veins.”

Years later, I had children and got thrown into the scary and unpredictable world of allergy management, but I still chose to raise my kids under the McDonald’s umbrella. On weekends and while travelling we make frequent visits to McDonald’s restaurants. My eldest son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat, and my youngest is allergic to eggs and fish. Although french fries, apple slices and juice are the only three items they can safely consume, that is three more items than most places can offer them. My kids with food allergies are satisfied with their fries, apples and Happy Meal toys, while the rest of the family, including my daughter that does not have food allergies, enjoys nut-free meals. Most meals ended with a quick run through the Play Place. These are simple indulgences that the entire family treasures.

You had me, McDonald’s … but now you don’t. I have defended and promoted the McDonald’s brand countless times, but now I feel that I can’t.

The McDonald’s Allergy Notice states:
Dear Guests – We now offer products containing NUTS that are not individually packaged. Products at this location may contain or come into contact with PEANUTS, TREE NUTS or OTHER ALLERGENS. If you have questions or concerns, please ask to speak to a Manager.

This new allergy notice posted in all Canadian restaurants tells me that anyone with food allergies is not welcome at McDonald’s. It tells me that McDonald’s Canada does not want the responsibility of being “nut-free” or “allergy-friendly” because of the legal risks. This allergy notice tells me that the brand I have cared about and worked to build for many years does not value my sons, my nephew, my friends and the millions of Canadians living with food allergies as consumers … and yes, we are millions. We might not all have food allergies, but the parents, the siblings, the close friends and relatives of people with severe food allergies all “live” with food allergies too.

McDonald’s is one of the largest and most powerful brands that caters to kids and families. I had always hoped that McDonald’s would be the trailblazer in providing allergy-friendly quick service meals, and the Create Your Own Burger felt like a step in the right direction. I was thrilled that wheat-free options like the lettuce wrap were finally available. It felt like McDonald’s actually prioritized increased options and customization over speed of service. With the new ordering technology and dedicated CYB concierge, I envisioned a McDonald’s where allergy-friendly quick serve might be a reality in the future. I know it’s not an easy task, but I hoped that McDonald’s Canada would be bold enough to take on that challenge. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll need to put those hopes aside for now, as the new SKOR McFlurry has sprinkled peanuts all over those dreams.

The new allergy notice has sparked a lot of emotions in me, but the most prevalent is disappointment. I’m disappointed that I can no longer support McDonald’s Canada, because you have posted an “UNWELCOME” sign in all of your restaurants for the food allergy community. I am disappointed that the McDonald’s brand is abandoning a large proportion of the future generation. I am sad that it feels like the world is moving backwards instead of forwards.

I am asking, as a long-time patron of McDonald’s Canada, for you to reassess the decision to add open nuts to your kitchens. The food allergy community is a valuable community, not only in terms of profit, but in terms of our customer loyalty and appreciation to allergy-friendly brands. It’s not too late for McDonald’s Canada to show the world that you truly care about your customers.


Pauline Osena