Less than two months after reorganizing its menu boards to spotlight items with 400 or fewer calories, McDonald’s Corp. announced that beginning next week it will include calorie information for all items on in-store and drive-thru menus. In doing so, it gets a jump on a requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), which mandates that restaurant chains with 20 or more locations provide such calorie information on menus.
Additionally, McDonald’s confirmed it is testing chicken McWraps, which BurgerBusiness.com reported on Aug. 8, and said that in 2013 it will offer an egg-white-only version of its iconic Egg Muffin, served on an English muffin with 8 grams of whole grain. The chain also intends to add more seasonal fruit and vegetable options, including blueberries and cucumbers, during peak growing seasons. More produce side dishes and more grilled-chicken items for children also are planned. [Click the menu below for a larger version]
The impact this change will have on eating habits and ordering behaviors won’t be apparent for several months. But a 2012 study by Chicago researcher Technomic finds the 67% of adults “who have been impacted by nutritional disclosure” say they sometimes change their order “to something more healthful” after seeing calorie/nutrition information. A smaller but still significant percentage (44%) says nutrition data sometimes results in their ordering a smaller portion, and 35% say they sometimes order fewer items.
While the National Restaurant Association was a major advocate for the federal menu-labeling law, some operators worried that menu boards would look cluttered and confusing with calorie counts added. In fact, the example of a new menu board provided by McDonald’s (above) does cram a huge amount of information onto the board. Will drive-thru times slow as diners sort through a novella-length menu?
Technomic’s 2009 study of consumer reaction to the menu labeling that took effect in New York City in 2008 found that among the 14% of adults who said they opposed the law, a quarter (26%) of them said it was because menu boards were too cluttered.
But other Technomic research has found widespread consumer enthusiasm for calorie-count labeling, especially among young adults. Its May 2011 study found that 76% of consumers age 18 to 34 agree or strongly agree with menu-labeling legislation. Support levels remain strong though lower, among those age 35 to 44 (62%) and 45 to 64 (61%). Only among those 65 and older did less than a majority (48%) support labeling.
And while 43% of adults said having nutrition info on menus is important to their choice of a restaurant, such data is not the top determinant. Larger percentages cited availability of healthy portion sizes (59%), low-fat foods (51%), low-sodium foods (46%), low-calorie foods (46%) and low-in-sugar foods (44%) as more important.