McDonald’s this morning released the details of a five-year plan to restrict half of its Happy Meal offerings to platters with 600 calories or fewer with 10% of calories from saturated fat, 10% from added sugar and 650mg sodium. It will also remove artificial flavors and colors and reduce artificial preservatives “where feasible.” And — are you ready?— it will no longer list the cheeseburger on its menu boards.
The company is positioning the announcement right up top as “an expanded commitment to families, supporting the company's long-term global growth plan by leveraging its reach to impact children's meals, access to reading, and keeping families together through Ronald McDonald House Charities.”
Put in a different positive vein, as Michael Barker does in Britain’s Fresh Fruit Journal, “McDonald’s has made a major commitment to increase the amount of fruit and veg it sells, with a view to helping kids eat more healthily.”
“After [the] child obesity rate in the U.S. almost tripled since the 1970s, McDonald’s is seeking healthier ingredients while trying to boost its image with more environmentally friendly packaging,” writes Bloomberg’s Sam Chambers.
“The Happy Meal has long been a target of health advocates and parents who link it to childhood obesity. McDonald's has made many tweaks over the years, including cutting the size of its fries and adding fruit. Most recently, it swapped out its apple juice for one that has less sugar,” reports the AP’s Joseph Pisani.
“It’s been especially important as the company tries to shake its junk-food image, since McDonald’s is known for getting more business from families with children relative to its traditional rivals, such as Burger King and Wendy’s. The Happy Meal is a key part of that,” Pisani continues.
“Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald’s,” president and CEO Steve Easterbrook says in a statement.
Happy Meals account for roughly 15% of McDonald’s sales in the U.S., Reuters’s Lisa Baertlein reports. As for those cheeseburgers, consumers can still get them if they ask, “which nudges diners to change behavior,” she writes. “When it did the same thing with Happy Meal sodas in 2013, some customers switched to water, milk or juice.”
The company says that 28% of Happy Meal combinations in 20 major markets currently meet the new nutritional criteria. “To reach the goal of 50% or more, markets will add new menu offerings, reformulate or remove menu offerings from the Happy Meal section of the menu board.”
It will also be “reducing the size of the fries order that comes with the six-piece Chicken McNuggets, cutting the amount of added sugar in chocolate milk and adding bottled water as a featured beverage choice on Happy Meal menu boards,” Zlati Meyer writes for USA Today. “The Oak Park, Ill.-based company said it also will explore adding new foods to Happy Meals, like the Junior Chicken, a grilled chicken sandwich McDonald's Italy introduced last month.”
“It’s a journey. It’s a delicate balance. Customers are looking for options today they can feel good about eating,” Julia Braun, a registered dietitian who is head of global nutrition at McDonald’s, tells Meyer.
And “McDonald's Australia is ‘currently exploring new vegetable and lean protein options and McDonald's France is looking at new vegetable offerings,’ the company said in a statement,” reports NPR’s Allison Aubrey.
“The U.S. will keep an eye on these,” Braun tells her. “We're committed to exploring new options.”
“Outside kids’ meals, McDonald’s has introduced vegetarian and vegan burger options in parts of Europe,” Aubrey continues. “‘I tasted it. I enjoyed it,’ Braun says of the veggie burger in France. As for plans to introduce a McVegan burger in U.S. stores? Braun says 'it needs to be led by the customer.' The fast-food giant needs to see the demand is there. ‘It's got to have mass appeal.’”
Globally. “The new targets are being established in the company’s 120 markets around the world including the 1,400 restaurants in Canada, where the federal government is planning to usher in a nationwide ban on food and drink marketing aimed at children,” writes Lisa Wright for the Toronto Star.
“‘As a family business, we’re aware of what the government is doing' so the company is paying close attention,” Nicola Pitman, director of menu management at McDonald's Canada, tells Wright.
McDonald’s’s announcement, in fact, makes a point of stating that “under the new goals, all Happy Meal bundles advertised to children will meet McDonald's new global nutrition criteria, and will continue to meet any existing local/regional advertising pledges with respect to marketing to children.”