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McDonald’s squeezes Happy Meals onto the treadmill

McDonald’s squeezes Happy Meals onto the treadmill

Burger giant accelerates healthier focus on popular menu choice

McDonald’s Corp. is putting its Happy Meals on a stricter health regimen.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant on Thursday outlined more near- and long-term changes in its popular Happy Meal. McDonald’s USA will accelerate changes in Happy Meal offerings in June, the company said.

The company is reducing Happy Meal calories and other nutritional benchmarks by making cheeseburgers a request-only item, downsizing the kids-meal French fries, cutting sodium in the chicken McNuggets and reformulating the chocolate milk’s sugar content. Later in the year, the company will offer bottled water as a featured beverage on the Happy Meal menu.

“We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most visited restaurants in the world, and remain committed to elevating our food, celebrating the joy of reading, and helping those in need through Ronald McDonald House Charities,” said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's president and CEO, said in a statement.

“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,” Easterbrook said. 

The impact is large. A McDonald’s spokesperson said Thursday that, while McDonald’s does not break out Happy Meal sales, “family trips” represent 30 percent of all visits to McDonald’s around the world.

The data research firm Sense360 calculated last year that McDonald’s sells 3.2 million Happy Meals a day. The Culver City, Calif.-based data firm also estimated 14.6 percent of McDonald’s customers order Happy Meals, generating $10 million in revenue each day.

By 2022, McDonald's said it will make other improvements to the Happy Meal menu across 120 markets to offer more balanced meals, simplify ingredients, provide more transparent nutrition information and reinforce responsible marketing to children.

Among the near-term changes planned for June, McDonald’s said all meal combinations offered on U.S. Happy Meal menu boards will be 600 calories or fewer and comply recommended nutritional criteria for added sugar and saturated fat. The menu will also be 78 percent compliant with the new sodium criteria, the company said.

Menu entrée choices will be limited to the hamburger as well four-piece and six-piece Chicken McNuggets. The Cheeseburger will only be available at a customer's request, the company said.

The company is also reformulating chocolate milk to reduce the amount of added sugar. Chocolate milk will no longer be listed on the Happy Meal menu, but will be available at a customer's request, the company said.

The influence of McDonald’s menu changes can be wide. McDonald’s saw milk and juice sales rise when it removed soda from its Happy Meal menu section in 2013.

The number of customers choosing milk or juice with Happy Meals increased to 46 percent, compared with 37 percent before the menu board change, McDonald’s said. And the percentage of customers choosing soda with Happy Meals has dropped to 48 percent, compared with 56 percent before the menu board change.

In 2013, McDonald's began working with the not-for-profit Alliance for Healthier Generation to develop a comprehensive plan for 20 major markets to increase customers' access to fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy and water. The markets include the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

McDonald's has more than 37,000 locations in more than 100 countries.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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