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McDonald's CEO Skinner takes on critics at final shareholder meeting

McDonald's CEO Skinner takes on critics at final shareholder meeting

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In his final shareholder meeting as chief executive of McDonald’s Corp., Jim Skinner once again defended the company against activist-shareholder criticism while steering the focus toward progress the brand has made across several lines of business.

Skinner, who will retire at the end of June, presented the state of McDonald’s business with his successor, Don Thompson, who pointed out that the chain plans to open as many as 1,300 restaurants worldwide this year. He also reiterated that further growth in the McDonald’s system would come from optimizing the menu, modernizing the customer experience and broadening accessibility to the brand.

Among the changes customers could expect in the United States would be a test of decaf and skim-milk options in the McCafé beverage line, as well as more fruits and grains across the menu, Thompson said. He added that the chain’s efforts to optimize the menu and broaden accessibility through value engineering would continue to work in tandem.

“We are ensuring that we have something on the menu for everyone at every price point,” Thompson said. “We know value is top of mind, so we’re emphasizing branded affordability at every price tier.”

Despite efforts to focus on progress, the McDonald’s executives faced critical questions from some shareholders, including several from watchdog groups that have carried on a dialogue with the brand for several years.

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Corporate Accountability International, which presented a shareholder proposal calling on McDonald’s to conduct a public study of its food’s impact on public health — the measure garnered only 6.4 percent of the vote in favor from shareholders — questioned the company’s marketing practices, especially toward children. As part of its Value the Meal campaign, Corporate Accountability has asked McDonald’s repeatedly to end marketing to children, as well as to close its restaurants located within hospitals.

Several shareholders from Corporate Accountability pressed Skinner and Thompson on those counts during the shareholder meeting. Skinner replied by pointing out that McDonald’s was the first restaurant company to sign on to the Better Business Bureau’s 2006 effort, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

“We advertise responsibly, and we’re proud of the changes we have made to our menu. And we’ve done more than anybody in terms of providing consumer choice,” Skinner said.

He added that McDonald’s locations in hospitals comprise only 26 restaurants out of more than 14,000 outlets in the United States. “And we were invited to those hospitals,” he noted.