I’ll Take a Side of…Salad?: McDonald’s Evolves

Never underestimate the power of profit.

Or at least, that’s what seems to be driving McDonald’s latest venture.

Under pressure to respond to the demand for healthier options in their current menu, McDonald’s announced ” that it would no longer market some of its less nutritional options to children and said it also planned to include offerings of fruits and vegetables in many of its adult menu combinations.”

http://thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/side-salad-555x283.jpg

The new McCombo.
Photo courtesy of McDonalds

The transition is expected to take at least three years within at least half of its targeted markets. The second half may not see this new menu until 2020.

Change, especially positive change, is slow-going.

McDonald’s global sales have been flat this past year. The failure to successfully capture millenials as loyal patrons has been credited as a major obstacle in the fast food giant’s struggle to both grow and maintain their market share.

By offering fruits, vegetables, and other options that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt, McDonald’s hopes to cash in on the buying power of consumers that are becoming increasingly health-conscious in light of the obesity epidemic. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and her work to get Americans on a healthier track, further illustrates the growing attention to what we eat and the impact of those choices on our families and communities.

Given the existing strategy to target children with the Happy Meal and low-income minorities with their cheap meal options, this announcement by McDonald’s is somewhat..dare I say, revolutionary?

Mixed health and diet messages.
Courtesy of http://durangobese.blogspot.com

Okay, revolutionary is a strong word. But it is innovative.

It’s clear the motivation here is strictly bottom-line economics. It would be silly to praise McDonald’s for their concern over the nation’s health as a primary motivator to change their model.

Of course it isn’t. We’re talking about McDonald’s here.

I can’t remember the last time I ate at McDonald’s, let alone stepped into one of their stores to check out their options. I’ve made it a point to avoid almost all fast-food chains because that was my personal choice¬† (except for you, Pret a Manger; your overpriced salads and sandwiches get me every time!).

Fast food chains have wizened up in the past five years by offering a variety of food options that would have gotten a laugh in the the past. Veggie burger? Burger King has that. Gluten-free pizza? Check out Dominoes. Salad instead of a sandwich? Pretty much everywhere.

Chipotle has made it their mission statement to be as transparent as possible about what goes into their food and what to eat if you’re following a strict vegetarian, vegan, or GMO-free diet. It’s far from a perfect model and Chipotle still has its critics, but I can still applaud their efforts to change a commercial food model that’s been in place for a long time.

Given the popularity of places like Chipotle and Subway ($5 footlong anyone?), the real deal for consumers seems to be choice. By emphasizing the customer’s ability to choose from a variety of toppings and ingredients, these companies have successfully latched onto a powerful trend with the modern individual.

We want choice. We want to see what’s going in that sandwich. Show me how you made that falafel, and I’ll feel more comfortable ordering a pita.

I admit I’m biased. This is definitely how I approach my choices for food on the go and I tend to gravitate to those places offering that sort of information from the jump. But I hear the same thing from friends who are less conscious about their health, but still concerned about the value of their dollar.

McDonald’s is a bit late to this game. The long transition period into these healthier choices will give other fast food companies the opportunity to continue taking pieces of the market share previously guaranteed to McDonald’s. Times have changed and customers are fickle.

I can’t tell you that this will sway me to walk into McDonald’s and order up a Big Mac with a side salad. Never say never of course, but it seems highly unlikely. That said, I have to acknowledge their efforts, in spite of the less than altruistic intentions, as a step towards accepting that we both want and need better food options.

I’m curious to see how this strategy will affect obesity statistics, if at all. I’m also curious to see what this will do to our global food system and how the shift towards vegetables and fruit will affect producers in this country and around the world.

Mostly, I just want to see if this works. It’s all about choice, after all, and half of the work is getting people to change their habits. Healthier options at fast food establishments have been around for awhile and our health continues to decline while our waistlines grow.

Changing the way fast food is marketed is one way to address the issue.¬† At the very least, companies are beginning to step up to the plate by making the choice for healthier food available. And that’s something.

What do you think about this recent announcement by McDonald’s?

Will this persuade you to start eating at McDonald’s if you aren’t currently?

Are you a fast food patron? Where do you eat regularly and why?

Share your thoughts and comments and below. I’m always looking to hear what you’re thinking!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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About Maribel Marmol

Stay positive. Eat well. Travel consciously. Move yourself. Change the world.
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7 Responses to I’ll Take a Side of…Salad?: McDonald’s Evolves

  1. These “food” manufacturers are able to get into our heads (lots of Psych professionals on staff) to see what will make us buy their stuff. A salad with a big mac? are you freaking kidding me?
    also….not for nothin’…..You do realize that Chipotle is owned by McDonalds…..

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    • RIGHT! Gosh, I did forget this important fact so thank you for bringing it up. I threw Chipotle in there simply because they’re so aggressive about their stance on being transparent about where they’re sourcing their food, etc. Pret a Manger also used to be owned by McDonald’s too. It’s all so corporate. I’m more just intrigued by how trends can dictate these sorts of messages and what the impact may or may not be when these companies respond. Well, trends and profit. Always the profit.

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  2. I don’t think this will change much. McDonald’s already offers salads. Those who want a salad will order a salad. Those who want a Big Mac, likely want fries too.

    I probably eat fast food once or twice a year…when I’m having a major “off-the-rails” splurge day. In that case, I want fries! I would never go to McDonald’s because I felt like eating healthy.

    I think they should focus on making their main menu items healthier. More grilled and whole-wheat options with higher quality meat….although that would probably raise the price too, so it’s a double-edged sword.

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    • That’s a great point, and something I imagine, has been proposed to McDonald’s in the past. Their business model is based something that at its very core, is unhealthy. And to your point, the choices are there. I believe that there’s no one answer to addressing the obesity epidemic. Working with big food producers and retailers like McDonalds or Walmart to offer healthier food options that can be accessible to anyone of any means, is only one small piece of the pie. Behavior change, in my opinion, is a bigger piece that often gets neglected….and that’s a topic for another day!
      The change in marketing tactics is interesting because I think that’s half the battle too. The messages out there about food and diet and health are SO mixed up, and companies like McDonald’s jump on that confusion to push whatever agenda they want. I find it really interesting how the “millenials” have really challenged the status quo when it comes to staples like McDonalds (or other classic American-isms like owning a car). I agree that this new McCombo won’t do much to shift the numbers but it was an interesting bit of news this week. Thanks so much for sharing your comments Whitney!

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  3. Geraldine says:

    But the motivation for companies like the big “M” is always $$$. I don’t think they give a d… about childhood obesity, disease…just $$. For that reason and many others (I’m a vegetarian!) I’d never eat there. Great post! Glad I clicked through. :)

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    • Thanks Geraldine! And agreed, the bottom line is clear cut for these kinds of companies. Some of the reports I’ve read analyzing the decisions made by executives of large-scale food manufactures seriously makes my skin crawl because there is absolutely no regard for the potential health risks posed by their products. McDonald’s is no exception. That said, I can’t help but wonder how this translates in real time…if it even happens that is. Thanks for stopping by Geraldine!

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  4. Megan says:

    I think it is an okay step in the right direction BUT if you look at McDonalds or Wendy’s menu their salads are sometimes the highest calorie options! It is the dressing that need a real change!

    I currently do not eat at fast food restaurants and this won’t change anything! I LOVE cooking and making my own food and eating copious volumes of fresh fruit and veggies! McDonalds doesn’t fit the budget or the overall health goals. I have stopped there a few times in the last couple years on long drives bc my bf is a sucker for their cheeseburgers. I either leave with nothing or salad with no cheese or dressing. blah.

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