[7/27 Update: Watch this UK spot featuring giant Happy Meal boxes and a Dave Clark Five soundtrack.]
McDonald’s Corp. today announced a new commitment to improving the healthfulness of its Happy Meals just weeks after declining to join Burger King and other chains in the National Restaurant Association’s similarly targeted Kids LiveWell program.
McDonald’s USA President Jan Fields said during today’s webcast that McDonald’s supports the NRA program’s goals. But McDonald’s clearly wanted to run its own initiative, which is understandable given that the chain often is singled out by restaurant-nutrition critics. Fields said McDonald’s wants to be a “champion of children’s well-being.”
Fields said Happy Meals will continue to include toy premiums, another target of criticism, such as the limit on toys in San Francisco. Happy Meal prices will not change as a result of nutrition changes.
The three-pronged program announced today begins with the promise of a new Happy Meal that will automatically include a ¼-cup serving of apple slices and a new, smaller (1.1 oz., 100 calories) child-size servings of fries, starting in September in selected markets. Although apples are an option now, only 11% of Happy Meal purchases include them.
The second component includes enhancements to nutritional balance in the total menu. This includes a pledge to reduce sodium in McDonald’s food by 15% by 2015 and additional cuts in sodium, added sugar and saturated fats through portion-size changes and food reformulation.
Finally, McDonald’s is introducing a downloadable smart-phone app that will provide nutrition information on its food. In line with standards set by the Council of Better Business Bureaus Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, Fields also pledged that “100% of communications directed to kids will include messages that raise awareness about nutrition.” She will conduct a “listening tour” this fall to ask customers in a variety of cities what they want to see on McDonald’s menu. “We want to be transparent and accountable,” Fields said in announcing that third-party overseers will gauge its success in implementing the new guidelines.