Slowly but surely, McDonald's is inching towards providing customers healthier options—a reaction, perhaps, to the company's inability to significantly boost sales in recent years as healthier competitors like Chipotle gain in popularity.
The fast food chain's latest move: a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to giving customers who order value meals the option of getting a side salad, fruit or vegetable instead of french fries (but only in its 20 largest markets, though those make up 85% of all sales). So yes, the age-old phrase "Do you want fries with that?" may soon be replaced by "Do you want fries, a salad, fruit, or a vegetable with that?"
McDonald's, which is partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to implement the initiative, won't say exactly what will be in the salads, or what fruits and vegetables will be offered. That will vary by market (Here's hoping nobody ends up with leftover raw potatoes).
The chain is also committing to changing the way it promotes children's Happy Meals—advertising only water, milk, and juice on menu boards, including nutrition and "well-being messages" on packaging, and using " Happy Meal and other packaging innovations and designs to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water options for kids."
For years, McDonald's has been making small, healthy tweaks to its menu. In 2011, the chain began automatically including sliced apples (without the traditional McDonald's caramel dipping sauce) and smaller containers of fries in Happy Meals. At the time, Cindy Goody, senior director of nutrition for McDonald's USA, told us: "Parallel to [these changes] is maintaining the taste, the quality, and wholesome nutrition, because without those three, we know that customers are not going to feel good about this. Incremental changes in whatever habit you're trying to change makes for big impacts." Egg-white Egg McMuffins and grilled chicken wraps have also been recently added to the menu.
Within three years, McDonald's plans to have the healthier value meal options and better Happy Meal advertising in up to 50% of its largest markets. By 2020, the changes will be in all of the 20 biggest markets.
The question is whether McDonald's can shake off its long-standing reputation as a place to go for food that's tasty precisely because it's so unhealthy. If it can't, it will have trouble taking market share away from the Chipotles, Subways, and Paneras of the world, which are increasingly popular with the highly coveted "millennial" demographic. But at least it might cut down on obesity in its current customers.