3 lessons from McDonald’s vow of healthier kids’ fare

McDonald’s says it wants to get healthier.

On Thursday, it announced an initiative to make healthier meals available
for children worldwide.


McDonald’s shared a blog post on Medium, co-authored by the head of its
global nutrition initiative, Julia Braun, and Dr. Howell Weschler, CEO for
Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

They wrote:

From day one, we knew the collective force of our two organizations could
catalyze change around the world — the public health expertise of the
Alliance for a Healthier Generation combined with the global scale of
McDonald’s. We began working together nearly five years ago with an intense
focus on creating balanced meal options for children and families within
McDonald’s restaurants and hoping to inspire beyond that.
Together, we have a powerful opportunity to support families and
help meet their needs in bigger, bolder ways.

McDonald’s framed the move as an effort to support families, and it
outlined a series of steps
in a press release shared in its newsroom.

“We recognise 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. “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

The press release detailed five steps it would take:

  • Offer balanced meals
  • Simplify ingredients
  • Be transparent with Happy Meal nutrition information
  • Behave responsibly when marketing to children
  • Use its marketing to increase consumption of healthy foods

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Some consumer advocates aren’t buying it.

NPR reported:

Not everyone is impressed by McDonald’s announcement. “This is more of the
same. Old tricks from an old dog,” says Alexa Kaczmarski of
Corporate Accountability, a watchdog group that campaigns for McDonald’s to change the way it
markets to children. “It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, Happy Meals
are vehicles for hooking kids on junk food and building brand affinity for

Other experts seemed unconvinced that McDonald’s will be able to change
what kids demand.

USA Today

“A lot of times, the options are available, but they’re one choice out of
many. If you’re in a restaurant and your child smells french fries and sees
the soda, it’s very difficult for kids to get the healthier choices,”
[Jennifer Harris of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food
Policy and Obesity] said. “It increases the perception that these are
healthy places, so it’s OK to bring your kids there, but once inside, the
whole environment is pushing unhealthy options. If you’re a parent, do you
risk having a meltdown or do you get your child what’s most appealing to

Here are three lessons from McDonald’s healthy push:

Back up your words with actions—and data.

McDonald’s pointed to earlier efforts and offered hard data to back up its
claims when talking about making its menu more nutritious.

In the Medium article it shared, it wrote:

Today, more customers are choosing water, milk and juice as the beverage of
choice in Happy Meals over other beverages in the U.S. Specifically, since
removing soda from the Happy Meal section of the U.S. menu board in 2014,
we saw double-digit percentage shifts to water, milk and juice, and
importantly — other restaurants followed suit. Along with a beverage
choice, customers are also selecting fruit, vegetable or low-fat dairy
sides — with 951 million of those options served in just one year in 13
major markets across the globe. Examples include cherry tomatoes in the
Netherlands, pineapple in Spain, carrots in Russia, side salad in Germany
and corn cups in Taiwan. In the U.S. alone, McDonald’s served an average of
108 clementines per minute while supplies lasted in 2016.

Supporting your claims with data adds credibility to your argument, which
just might convert the skeptics.

Highlight your other socially responsible actions.

McDonald’s has a long history of charitable giving and corporate action on
behalf of children, including initiatives such as Ronald McDonald House.
The press release announcing the menu change
focuses on such efforts:

When it comes to supporting families, the company has played an important
role for more than 40 years in keeping families near the care they need
when their children are sick. McDonald’s was a founding mission partner of
the Charity and remains committed to leveraging the size and scale of
McDonald’s restaurants to promote and raise money to support the growth of
the Charity. RMHC keeps families together, close to the care they need
through more than 364 Ronald McDonald Houses, 227 Ronald McDonald Family
Rooms, and 49 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in 64 countries and regions
around the world. Last year alone, RMHC provided care and resources to more
than five and a half million children and families. Last year, McDonald’s
restaurants supported the work of RMHC by providing approximately 2.4
million overnight stays in neighborhoods and in communities around the

By reminding customers of McDonald’s long-time commitment to children, the
company adds authenticity and credibility to its message. The changes
appear to come from a core part of the company’s credo, rather than a
simple gamble for higher sales.

Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.

The cheeseburger is big part of McDonald’s identity—and pivoting away from
the menu item is no small thing for the storied fast-food chain.

Some tweeted their dismay at the change:




Change can be bumpy, but by changing course, McDonald’s hopes to be better
positioned to serve families in the future.

According to the company, the cheeseburgers are just the start.

It wrote:

By 2022, McDonald’s restaurants will add new Happy Meal offerings,
reformulate or remove offerings from the Happy Meal section of the menu
board to meet these goals. We’re announcing a host of improvements later
this year to Happy Meal menus in the U.S. — like adding bottled water,
cutting the calories and sodium with smaller fries in the 6 piece Chicken
McNuggets Happy Meal, and working to reduce the added sugars in chocolate
milk. In addition, just last month McDonald’s Italy introduced a sandwich
with lean protein (grilled chicken); McDonald’s Australia is currently
exploring new vegetable and lean protein options; and McDonald’s France is
looking at new vegetable offerings.

What do you think of McDonald’s promise and messaging, PR Daily

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