In lieu of fries, customers can get two bags of apple slices.
McDonald's began offering apple slices, then known as Apple Dippers
because of a caramel sauce that accompanied the fruit, but in the
new version of the Happy Meal, the caramel sauce will not be
The changes will result in an estimated 20% reduction in
calories for the "most popular" Happy Meals, said McDonald's ("most
popular" presumably means the meals with the fries). According to
the company, 88% of McDonald's customers were aware of the apple
option, but apples were only chosen in 11% of Happy Meal orders.
Overall, Happy Meals are estimated to provide 10% of the chain's
Other menu modifications include McDonald's promise that by
2020, the chain will reduce added sugar, saturated fat and calories
through varied portion sizes and what the company called
reformulations. Many of the chicken items have gone through a 10%
reduction in sodium; McDonald's will reduce sodium an average of
15% across its national menu by 2015.
The announcement comes just weeks after the National Restaurant
Association, in conjunction with Healthy Dining, launched a
voluntary initiative by the restaurant industry to spur chains to
offer and promote healthier kids-meal options. Chains such as
Burger King and Chili's jumped on board, but McDonald's
was noticeably missing from the list of participants. When asked
whether there were any plans to join the initiative, a spokeswoman
for McDonald's said, "We are a longtime supporter of the NRA, and
we'll continue to evaluate our participation in programs in the
According to the press release on the menu changes: "In 2012,
McDonald's will also raise nutrition awareness among children and
parents through national marketing initiatives. The company will
promote nutrition messages in 100% of its national kids'
communications, including merchandising, advertising, digital and
the Happy Meal packaging. McDonald's will also provide funding for
grass-roots community nutrition awareness programs."
The release also said the company will promote options that meet
"rigorous" standards set forth by the Council of Better Business
Bureau's Food Pledge nutrition standards by first quarter 2012.
McDonald's has supported the Better Business Bureau's Children's
Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative since 2006.
Earlier this month the initiative said it would enforce the same
nutritional standards for all 17 of its voluntary members, rather
than letting companies pick and choose their own rules. And the
standards will be tightened as of
December 2013 to the point where one in three products now
advertised to kids would be off the air, unless recipes are
reformulated with less sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
A spokeswoman for McDonald's declined to discuss details of
future marketing initiatives. The company has been under intense
pressure -- it has even been slapped with lawsuits -- from
consumer-advocacy organizations calling for the chain to eliminate
marketing to kids altogether, including toys in Happy Meals and
mascot Ronald McDonald.
And although McDonald's has stood by its practices, products and
clown, it has significantly
dropped its measured media spending on the Happy Meal, according to
Kantar, despite earlier this year rolling out about a half-dozen
ads by Publicis Groupe 's Leo Burnett with Ronald McDonald as the
centerpiece, encouraging kids to visit its Happy Meal website. In
the first quarter, McDonald's dropped its Happy Meal marketing by
nearly 46% over the same period on the prior year.
While vocal consumer groups that frequently call McDonald's out
for its marketing practices are happy to see the chain make
healthier offerings, they would still like to see the end of
marketing to children.
"McDonald's deserves credit for not only taking these steps, but
for acknowledging its role in today's epidemic of diet-related
disease in so doing," Kelle Louaillier, executive director of
Corporate Accountability International, said in a statement. "It's
a good first step, however, the corporation has yet to address the
central issue, its aggressive brand marketing to kids. And so long
as burgers, fries, and soda offerings to kids, alongside toys,
remain central to that brand, health professionals will continue to
call for the marketing to stop."
On the governmental front, McDonald's and other restaurants were
banned in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties from offering toys
with kids' meals if they didn't meet certain nutritional criteria.
Similar legislation was recently proposed in New York.
McDonald's, along with many other chains including Burger King
and Wendy's , last year was the target of a study by Yale
University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, which said
fast feeders were marketing to children now more than ever.