A healthier Happy Meal

Jennifer Collins Jul 26, 2011

A healthier Happy Meal

Jennifer Collins Jul 26, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Speaking of cars — well speaking of drive-thrus, actually — if I can stretch the connection just a bit, McDonald’s said today it’s putting Happy Meals on a diet. Over the next couple of months, the little bag of fries is going to shrink by half. Less salt, overall. More fruit.

But as Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins reports, the new healthier Happy Meal may actually be about selling more junk food — not less.

Jennifer Collins: We all know what kids really like about McDonald’s.

McDonald’s Ad: There’s a Barbie in your Happy Meal.

Thing is, McDonald’s has been under pressure for the fatty, salty, high-calorie food that goes with all those Barbies and Transformers. Today, the company said beginning in September, it’ll cut Happy Meal calories about 20 percent by shrinking the fries and including fruit or veggies.

Sara Senatore is an analyst with Sanford Bernstein.

Sara Senatore: The idea is that there will be also some contingent of people who will say, well maybe now I’ll consider McDonald’s for my kids because I like what they’re doing here.

They may also consider it for themselves. Peter Saleh of Telsey Advisory Group says this is not just about selling to kids.

Peter Saleh: You’re also bringing in the sales that their parents would otherwise spend somewhere else. So if you’re selling more Happy Meals, you’re likely selling more burgers, fries and these McCafe drinks to their parents.

McDonald’s says it’ll offer different options like carrots, apples, maybe mandarin oranges. Sounds expensive, says Technomic restaurant analyst Darren Tristano.

Darren Tristano: This will add cost to the meal and likely the price will go up.

And keep this in mind: McDonald’s has been offering Happy Meals with apples and caramel dipping sauce instead of fries since 2004. And only about 10 percent of people go for that version.

Tristano: I suspect a lot of the apples will be consumed by the parent who doesn’t want to waste it.

And can no longer get their hands on their kids’ tiny bag of fries.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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