Consumers need an advocate for their needs in relation to the fast food industry. Fast food in America is big business. Fast food is a major employer, contributor of taxes, and it is available in nearly every corner of the United States for an affordable price, but the impacts of such unhealthy food options have included an overweight and unhealthy nation (Schlosser, 2012). Clearly fast food plays an important role in the economy and in the lives of Americans, but the limited and unhealthy choices which it puts before consumers need to be seen in light of the larger business case.
Capitalism is an economic framework which provides for business to meet the needs of customers. Customers buy products because they provide value to them, either because they are needed or wanted. In capitalism, business owners share in the profits of the business while the workers are paid wages. Very large, multinational corporations often go public with an offering, meaning that shares or a part of the business can be bought by anyone, who becomes a shareholder. The shareholder gets their share of their profits at regular intervals. Shareholders make the decisions with regard to the direction of the business, and the direction chosen is typically growth and greater or continued profits.
It is definitely possible for a company to cater to both its best interests and that of the customer since in order to provide value to customers it must. Many new franchises provide a fast food like environment and services but serve healthy and nutritious foods. Further, even the traditional fast food restaurants have reformed their recipes and menus in order to have less salt, less fat and more nutrition. Unfortunately the reforms have not gone far enough, and fast food options which put Americans at risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and malnutrition continues to be the most available, common and affordable option.
The purpose of a company is to make profits for shareholders, and fast food companies are no different. One cannot blame the fast food franchises for the provision of unhealthy food which is not in the interests of their consumers if consumers do not take some responsibility for their life choices. Corporate social responsibility or CSR has been stated to be the answer to the problems caused by corporations (Royle, 2005). CSR cannot do much to mitigate damage if the very product that is being sold is the cause of the damage, and therefore it can do little to mitigate the health problems that fast food creates for its consumers.
Making ethical business decisions can be difficult when it comes to the industry of affordable, enticing food. People are attracted to food which is not healthy for them, and this makes them an interesting business opportunity. The responsibility of business is in looking at the larger business case, namely the liabilities and long term sustainability of the consumers as a stakeholder in their business. From this perspective it becomes clear that deep fried, salty, calorie laden fast food is not in the long term interests of the business. Customers will in the long term find more value in their health, it will avoid potential liabilities and it keeps customers alive and earning so that they can continue to support the business by buying the product. In fact, one could say there is a business case to be made that fast food has an interest in keeping their customers as healthy as possible, in order to keep them for longer.
For a business just to cater to its shareholders, it will neglect the needs of its customer base which will in the long run impact sales and counterintuitively damage achieving the objectives of shareholders. For a business to cater to its customers is for the business to neglect its responsibilities to its shareholders, and there will therefore be few, perhaps too few to carry the necessary investment. Neither is a good way to proceed. Good business provides value to both the producer or seller and the consumer, and this should guide relationships between fast food franchises and their consumers.
- Royle, T. (2005). Realism or idealism? Corporate social responsibility and the employee stakeholder in the global fast‐food industry. Business Ethics: A European Review, 14(1), 42-55.
- Schlosser, E. (2012). Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.