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health matters

McDonald's Gives In on Happy Meals

Posted by Dale Buss on July 26, 2011 02:00 PM

Maybe McDonald's is just feeling generous because its second-quarter net income rose by 15% and the iconic brand has been able to buck the vestiges of recession that have been afflicting so many of its competitors. Or maybe company executives are just tired of being played as villains by food activists.

Whatever the reason or reasons, McDonald's today laid out details of a new multi-pronged, multi-year commitment to boost nutrition in its menu and, to the extent it can, across American society. Most notably, it includes a major overhaul of the much-maligned Happy Meal in response to concerns about childhood obesity, as well as significant new uses of its influence in various forms of communication about food choices.

The company’s “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices” aim to help Americans “make nutrition-minded choices whether visiting McDonald's or eating elsewhere.”

“McDonald's will always try to do the right thing, and we knew we can help make a difference in our communities,” stated Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA. “The commitments we’re announcing today will guide the future evolution of our menu and marketing.”

The company has been under fire on the kids' nutrition front, deflecting cries to cease its kids marketing and fire Ronald McDonald as a brand mascot.

Now, its Happy Meal makeover (above) includes automatically putting produce or a low-fat dairy option in every meal, which McDonald's estimates would mean a 20% reduction in calories of the most popular Happy Meals and a reduction in fat as well. The company also plans to deluge parents and kids with nutritional messaging in its advertising, and fund others’ efforts to do the same.

McDonald's will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September. It will include both apple slices and a new, smaller serving of French fries, and the beverage choice will include a new fat-free chocolate milk as well as 1% low-fat white milk. The company noted in its announcement that it has offered apple slices as an option in Happy Meals since 2004 – and while 88% of customers know about the option, only 11% choose the slices.

So now, McDonald's seems to be saying it will begin essentially forcing better nutrition on our young customers, since their parents apparently can't or won’t do it — of course, who buys those Happy Meals in the first place? And will putting apple slices in Happy Meals make kids forgo French fries?

It's a case of damned if it does, damned if it doesn't. The chain is taking a huge leap toward the position of child-nutrition advocates who see stronger measures by many constituencies as the only way to get American kids to eat better, even if that means working through and around their parents.

McDonald's has also released a mobile app (its first) with nutrition information as one of the tabs to aid in these efforts, and will embark on a "listening tour" next month to get feedback from consumers on how to better promote healthier eating.

Today's announcement won the White Housekeeping Seal of Approval, garnering praise from America's childhood obesity-fighter, Michelle Obama, who last year lobbied the National Restaurant Association to step up the fight against the nation's expanding waistline and last week gave her blessing to Walmart and other retailers' move to bring fresh fruit and produce to underserved areas.

The First Lady responded (in a statement that was published by AP):

"McDonald's is making continued progress today by providing more fruit and reducing the calories in its Happy Meals. I've always said that everyone has a role to play in making America healthier, and these are positive steps toward the goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity. McDonald's has continued to evolve its menu, and I look forward to hearing about the progress of today's commitments, as well as efforts in the years to come."

Of course, not everyone was impressed with the fast food giant's nutrition initiative, judging by Twitter, with some critics opposed to any kids' marketing (such as the McDonald's Smurfs movie tie-in at top):

Tell us: Your thoughts on McDonald's new nutritional commitment and kids marketing strategy?

Comments

Xandro Australia says:

Bring back the Hamburgler. Time for the villains to really win and let's hope he can kick the Clows ass real bad this time. We need the bad guys to win so we can see the change.
It's no point if the clown wins all the time.

July 26, 2011 06:03 PM #

Lori Mac United States says:

Mickey D's will be criticized no matter what it does, and every little bit helps. Still, parents must take responsibility -- if you don't want yours kid to eat french fries, don't take them to McDonalds. You can lead a kid to apple slices, but you can't make him eat.

July 26, 2011 11:04 PM #

Paul Harrison Australia says:

Strange that the article went from news to a particularly biased commentary, e.g., It's a case of damned if it does, damned if it doesn't. The chain is taking a huge leap toward the position of child-nutrition advocates who see stronger measures by many constituencies as the only way to get American kids to eat better, even if that means working through and around their parents. I'm a bit disappointed in you, brandchannel. Perhaps a more even-handed approach would be appropriate, particularly on the health matters page.

July 27, 2011 03:56 AM #

Mike United States says:

Doesn't this statement say it all "The company noted in its announcement that it has offered apple slices as an option in Happy Meals since 2004 – and while 88% of customers know about the option, only 11% choose the slices."??  Quit blaming the restaurants and start placing the blame where it's due . . . irresponsible parents.

July 27, 2011 09:44 AM #

Paul Harrison Australia says:

Yeah. Irresponsible parents... and the government are to blame. McDonalds have no responsibility. They're just trying to make a buck. Leave them alone. The poor things.

July 27, 2011 09:52 AM #

Mike White United States says:

I have fond memories of being marketed to as a child in the 70's by the fast food, breakfast cereal, and beverage companies. They all creatively targeted children with cartoon characters and memorable jingles in a way that made buying their products more fun. Though because my parents taught me the value of nutrition, I would never even think twice about asking for Kool-Aid for dinner, or a daily trip to McDonald's. Candy, junk food, soda pop, and sugar cereal were the occasional TREAT, and any more than that was simply not allowed. I watched so many kiddie commercials in my youth, that I could recite words to every jingle and name every cartoon mascot without hesitation. Ads never made choices for me, my parents did, and as I grew up, I made similar choices. Many parents today are too busy to teach their kids properly, and shirk the responsibility. They believe the public schools, the daycare, the nanny, the television, and the fast food companies should be teaching their children. In my opinion this is solely the job of a parent. As a parent myself, I simply won't let television raise my children, and you won't hear me complaining about the influence of advertising.

July 27, 2011 01:30 PM #

David Veal United States says:

I'm a visual person. Looking at the new Happy Meal I see a band aide, not a real change. the sugared chocolate milk they offer, the anemic apple slices (any preservatives?), please. The photographer had to work hard to give any of that credible weight.

And next to fries and fried meat the alternatives are, well, lacking. As a parent I know what's good for a kid's lunch. Mc D's base dna doesn't allow for that.

Xandro said it right. I think McDonald's should stay the so called villain and serve fatty burgers, fries and shakes. Parents should make better decisions. Mike is right, Mc D's should be an occasional treat, not a dinner destination.

One way many of the fast foods stay with us, and really take good food choices away, is their location. Try going on a road trip and loose weight. Can't do it unless you are anti-fast food. Really anti-fast food. Those guys are everywhere. Each ten - thirty miles of US highway is a brand touch for bad food. They cluster around the hotels and gas stations. Stop for gas, the kids yell for fast food. Stop to sleep, guess where dinner is coming from. Hey, even the so called health franchise Subway Sandwiches sells chips and foot long meatball sandwiches.

August 1, 2011 12:15 AM #

Comments are closed

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