Under pressure to make its Happy Meals more nutritionally friendly, McDonald's on Monday announced plans to add yogurt as a side option.
Beginning July 4, the burger behemoth will offer a 50-calorie version of Go-Gurt Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt as a Happy Meal side option. This Go-Gurt is made specifically for McDonald's by General Mills with 25% less sugar -- about 6 grams -- than conventional Yoplait Go-Gurt, says Julie Wenger, senior director of U.S. marketing at McDonald's.
"Parents and kids tell us they're looking for more choice -- and more healthful choices in Happy Meals," says Wenger.
While McDonald's executives say they're responding to customer requests, the fast-food giant also is facing continuing pressure from consumer activists and competitors.
One nutrition expert says the move is minor. "It's good they're adding another option, but they've still got a long ways to go," says Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy at Center for Science in the Public Interest. "I'd be much more excited if they added more fruit or vegetable items."
Wootan strongly objects to the fact that kids-size fries still will be the default side item in Happy Meals. Customers will be asked to pick apple slices or yogurt as the second side. Wootan says that apple slices and yogurt should be the two defaults -- and consumers should specifically have to request fries.
But Wenger says more than 90% of customers choose fries every time with Happy Meals, so it was a natural default. Now, she notes, consumers can specifically request yogurt and apple slices with Happy Meals and nix the fries.
Wenger says McDonald's tested a portable yogurt product in Happy Meals about a decade ago, but it didn't sell. "It was an idea ahead of its time," she says. Yogurt already is a Happy Meal option in Canada, she says.
Among other Happy Meal nutrition efforts coming, a new, animated character, "Happy" -- a smiling, Happy Meal box -- will debut in the U.S. market later this week to promote fruits, veggies and wholesome eating, Wenger says. Also, later this year, McDonald's in the U.S. will stop promoting soft drinks for Happy Meal on menu boards and only promote milk, juice or water, she says.
Lastly, McDonald's is testing the Cuties clementine and mandarin orange brand in the Austin market. It's the first time McDonald's has domestically made any whole fruit -- uncut and unprocessed -- a Happy Meal option, says Wenger.
Wootan, the nutritionist, likes that one. "That seems innovative," she says. "Kids like them, and they're easy to peel."