* Happy meal changes begin in September
* Happy Meal prices will not change as a result
* Will continue to give away toys with Happy Meals
(Adds company and consumer group comment, background; updates
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, July 26 McDonald's Corp (MCD.N)
said on Tuesday it will soon tweak its Happy Meals, reducing
the french fry portion by more than half and automatically
adding apples to the popular children's meals, after coming
under pressure from consumer groups to provide healthier fare.
McDonald's -- which has been taking heat from parents,
consumer groups and local lawmakers over the nutritional
content and marketing of Happy Meals -- said it would start
making the changes in September and the new Happy Meals would
be available in all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants by the end
of the first quarter of 2012.
The world's largest hamburger chain also plans a 15 percent
reduction in sodium across its U.S. menu by 2015. Beyond that,
it vowed to cut sodium, added sugars, saturated fats and
calories in domestic meals by 2020.
"We are going to be casting our gaze more closely on
portion management as well as how we can introduce more food
groups such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains," Cindy
Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition, said on a
The new child's french fry portion will be 1.1 ounces, down
from 2.4 ounces previously, and equal to about 100 calories.
McDonald's currently offers apple slices with caramel
dipping sauce as a Happy Meal side. The new apple portion size
is 1.2 ounces, compared with 3.1 ounces previously, and has no
added sugar or accompanying dipping sauces.
The new Happy Meals will have about 20 percent fewer
calories than today's most popular Happy Meal, executives said.
As a result, the new Happy Meals will be under 600 calories.
Prices will not change as a result of the new composition,
and toys will continue to be included in every Happy Meal, said
Jan Field, McDonald's U.S.A. president.
The move from McDonald's came after San Francisco and
nearby Santa Clara County, California, passed laws that would
curb free toy giveaways with kids' meals that did not meet
"Without the looming prospect of regulation in cities and
states around the country, McDonald's would not have taken as
seriously the concerns that the public health community and
parents have been sharing with them about this issue," said
Samantha Graff, director of legal research at Public Health Law
& Policy, which drafted the models for the ordinances
eventually adopted in Santa Clara County and San Francisco.
Field told Reuters that the changes announced on Tuesday
were in the works for more than two years and had nothing to do
with the Santa Clara County and San Francisco laws.
Field added that the new Happy Meals still would not meet
San Francisco's nutritional rules, which also require a
Still, she said it is "absolutely" possible that McDonald's
could add a vegetable to Happy Meals over the next five years.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer
group that advocates healthier restaurant food for children,
last year sued McDonald's to stop it from using Happy Meal toys
to lure children into its restaurants. [ID:nN1E76J0XM]
Some 1,700 health professionals and institutions also have
signed an open letter to McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner
calling for it to stop marketing junk food to kids.
CSPI's nutrition policy director Margo Wootan, called the
latest McDonald's changes a step in the right direction.
"McDonald's is an industry leader and Happy Meals have been
copied by so many restaurants," she said. "Having them change
the nutritional quality for the Happy Meal sets a standard for
Burger King Corp [BKCBK.UL], DineEquity Inc's (DIN.N) IHOP
and more than a dozen other restaurant chains earlier this
month backed an industry effort to serve and promote healthier
meals for children. McDonald's said it supported that effort,
from the National Restaurant Association. [ID:nN1E76C1HP]
As part of that, Burger King said it was removing french
fries and soda as the default for its kids' meals. Diners now
have to choose between those options or sliced apples, fat-free
milk or juice before an order can be completed.
While the restaurant industry is taking steps to appease
its critics, it also has been backing laws designed to restrict
local lawmakers' ability to regulate restaurant marketing and
other activities. [ID:nN04121121]
Shares in McDonald's were up 4 cents to $88.16 in afternoon
trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)