McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) will begin letting customers in 20 countries choose fruit, salads and vegetables instead of fries with value meals within the next three years. The markets that will get the healthier fare include the U.S., Australia, Germany, France, the U.K. and China.
Some of the countries, such as France, already have some salad swap options. But they will be fully in place in 30 to 50 percent of the 20 big markets by 2016 and in all of them by 2020. The countries represent 85 percent of McDonald's sales.
McDonald's currently does less than 3 percent of its sales in salads at U.S. restaurants. "I don't see salads being a major growth driver in the near future," CEO Don Thompson said at an investor conference in May. The sales leaders continue to be beef, chicken, breakfast and drinks.
The chain will also make some adjustments to the way it markets Happy Meals for children. Most significantly, it will only advertise water, milk and juice as drink options for the kids' meals.
But Thompson said last week that McDonald's is looking at developing other healthy side dishes that will appeal to customers. In other parts of the world, the chain offers cups of corn and kiwi on a stick, for example. "What is it that customers will choose, and what will they eat?" Thompson said in an Associated Press interview. "What we don't want to do is just put something on the menu and say, hey, we did it. We really want consumption."
McDonald's also faces the twin problems of aging customers who are looking for healthier food than McDonald's serves, and younger potential customers who are spending more to eat at fast-casual restaurants. As a result, sales growth has been weak in the U.S. for the first six months of 2013, and McDonald's has lost revenue in Europe and Asia compared with last year. Part of the goal for the healthy options is almost certainly to find ways of keeping those customers from drifting away,
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