The Current

Canadians with nut allergies aren't loving McDonald's new McFlurry flavour

A menu change at McDonald's has families with kids who suffer from nut allergies saying nuts. Now there's one less place for those families to eat worry-free.
McDonald's was one of the few places parents could take their nut-allergic kids to in Canada. But not any more. The restaurant has announced a new McFlurry flavour with nuts. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

No more Happy Meals for people with nut allergies as McDonald's no longer guarantees "nut free" menu items and has introduced a new Skor McFlurry containing chopped almonds.

For years, McDonald's had packaged nuts separately to guarantee no cross-contamination. And that made the golden arches a refuge for the families of children with serious allergies to nuts.

Sheila Rusnell-Newton, a mother of a 15-year-old who has severe peanut and tree-nut allergies tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti she was shocked to hear the news.

"I always felt that McDonald's was a bit of a pioneer in the whole allergy market and I felt that they knew what a refuge they were for families all across Canada that you know had children with anaphylaxis allergies, or adults that had  anaphylaxis allergies for that matter." 
The new McDonald's Canada Skor McFlurry contains chopped almonds in the pieces of chocolate. (Karen Pauls )

As someone who travels often, Rusnell-Newton says it was an easy option to know there's a safe meal available. 

"As a 15-year-old, my son can go out with his buddies and not have to go and ask for the manager. He doesn't have to go and ask to see the allergy binder. He knows he's safe in that environment." \

It's not just the idea of peanuts or peanut-related products in restaurants but cross-contamination that is a risk, Rusnell-Newton tells Tremonti. As a parent she points out that kids with severe allergies like her son have a lack of freedom.

"They have such a real sense of mortality on a day-to-day basis. He can't walk out the front door without at least one or two EpiPens on his body … Kids shouldn't have to live under that sense of doom."

Executive director of Food Allergy Canada, Laurie Harada hopes that McDonald's senior management will respond to the huge outcry from parents and people who have nut allergies.

"They've got consumers saying we're not going to dine there anymore and neither our friends or our families — that's a lost opportunity and you know that's a big part of business that people underestimate."

Harada says it's not just the person with the allergy that spends money at McDonald's but the whole family or soccer team orders a meal, so the amount spent is a large loss to the company.

There are about 2.5 million Canadians with allergies who are potentially at risk with the change of policy. 
In a survey of members of Food Allergy Canada, McDonald's was the most popular choice for a safe restaurant to eat at. (Seth Perlman/Associated Press)

McDonald's declined The Current's request for an interview to explain their decision but Harada has been in contact with them.

She tells Tremonti that it's a business decision.

"They feel like they do need to give consumers the warning that there are nuts and peanuts that will be in the restaurant with new products like the Skor product."

From a marketing perspective, Monica LaBarge, assistant professor of marketing at the Smith School of Business at Queen's University, thinks it's a terrible decision.

"McDonald's is already under fire on enough fronts. Certainly … we all know about fast food nation and they're sort of coming back from that," LaBarge tells Tremonti.

It's not clear to LaBarge why McDonald's would be willing to jeopardize a large, loyal group of customers for a couple of product line extensions.

"I do wish they had commented because that can help clarify for a lot of people who are very confused and frustrated as to what their reasoning is."

"It's really hard to see what the upside of this is to them."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry and Sam Colbert.