McDonald's is kind of, sort of, really serious about shedding the weight of its Supersize Me image: The company announced Thursday that it will begin offering salad, fruit, and vegetable side options in its American adult value meals, alongside other health initiatives that include health-targeted children's marketing. American value meals usually just have french fries as side options (unlike Happy Meals, where kids have been able to choose apple slices instead for awhile now. Which we're sure happens all the time.) Healthier adult meal side-swaps are already ubiquitous in countries abroad, such as France.
"What is it that customers will choose, and what will they eat?" McDonald's CEO Don Thompson said. "What we don't want to do is just put something on the menu and say, 'Hey, we did it.' We really want consumption."
Non-fry options will be rolled out during the next three years in up to half of the fast-food empire's 20 biggest markets, which comprise 85 percent of sales and include 'Murca, the UK, and China. By 2020, they'll be in place in all of the targeted markets. (Seven years seems like a pretty long time to make a salad, if you ask us.)
The announcement comes at a time when McDonald's is experiencing flatlined sales, particularly among the much pursued Millennial crowd, who are getting their fast-casual kicks at more sophisticated joints like Panera/Bread Co. and Chipotle, chains that are all sorts of delicious and pretty transparent about their nutrition and sourcing.
At the May shareholders' meeting, a measure was proposed by a non-profit watchdog group that would have required the company to undergo an assessment of its nutritional initiatives. It was voted down by a "large majority" of the shareholders.
The company has also gotten a lot of criticism for luring kids in via advertisements that favor toys and movie tie-ins. During the same shareholders' meeting, an awesome kid named Hannah stood up and told Thompson, "It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time." To which, it should be mentioned, Thompson replied with a straight face, "We don't sell junk food."
After being told off by the 9-year-old, Thompson's apparently changed his mind about some things. By offering healthier options across the board and switching tactics, it looks like McDonald's hopes it might be able to recoup some of its credibility and boost sales.
Packaging for healthy options such as carrots will be redesigned to be more attractive to kids and include a message about nutrition. In what's actually a really promising idea, only milk, juice, and water will be promoted on children's menus and advertising (although parents will still be able to order soda for their kids).
"People can't make healthy choices for their kids if healthy choices aren't available," Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "No government agency or non-profit has the marketing capacity that McDonald's has to make fruits and vegetables an exciting experience for young people."
In a pre-announcement interview at the Clinton Foundation conference in New York City, Thompson hinted at even more thrilling produce options to come, inspired by global locations where sides like kiwi and corn-in-a-cup are popular. So far, McDonald's has already introduced options such as grilled chicken wraps, and egg-white McMuffins in America. Burger King, not to be left out, introduced lower-calorie, lower-fat fries called, "Satisfries" just this week.
It might take a lot for America to give up its burger-and-fry love, but burger-and-kiwi-on-a-stick might just do it. Maybe.