McDonald’s will start giving customers more healthy options and work on better marketing fruits and vegetables to kids, the fast food chain announced on Thursday. The company is partnering with the Clinton Foundation to promote initiatives to tackle childhood obesity.
The fast food restaurant will integrate healthier options into its Value Meals, which currently allow customers to buy a side of french fries and a soft drink along with their sandwich. Now, they’ll be able to pick a side salad, a piece of fruit, or raw vegetables instead. McDonald’s will update Value Meals in 20 of its largest markets around the world.
The company says it will also start promoting juice, low-fat milk, and water — instead of sugary drinks like soda — as the primary drink options for kid’s Happy Meals, although customers will still be able to buy soda regardless of the new marketing push. McDonald’s will also use its Happy Meals packaging to “promote fruits and vegetables in fun ways” and impart messages about nutrition.
The news comes in the wake of Burger King’s announcement this week that it is unveiling a new lower-calorie french fry option. Burger King says its new fries will have about 75 fewer calories in a serving size than McDonald’s fries do.
Amid criticism that their marketing tactics have helped fuel the obesity epidemic, fast food giants have increasingly attempted to add “healthier” options to their menus. McDonald’s has attempted to appeal to a younger, more health-conscious audience by offering wraps and salads, but it has struggled to succeed in this area and sales have slumped. Still, McDonald’s chief executive Don Thompson says the company will continue down this road. “We’ve been trying to optimize our menu with more fruits and vegetables and giving customers additional choices when they come to McDonald’s,” Thompson told the New York Times.
McDonald’s says its new initiative will take up to three years to implement in the markets that are currently being phased in. The remainder of the company’s markets may not see any changes until 2020.
The food and beverage industries have resisted efforts to regulate the unhealthy substances in their products or scale back their marketing campaigns geared toward kids. In an announcement about McDonald’s new initiative, former President Bill Clinton applauded the fast food giant for taking steps to self-regulate. First Lady Michelle Obama has taken a similar approach in her “Let’s Move!” campaign — calling on food corporations to rein in their own marketing strategies, but stopping short of advocating for legislative reform.