McDonald’s is ditching its ‘healthier’ foods to chase profit

Restaurant owners are pleased with the new strategy, which has seen some healthy items omitted due to longer prep time and lower demand. “Our simplified menu provides speed,” the National Owners Association, a large group of McDonald’s franchisees, said in an email reviewed by Bloomberg News last month. According to the group, an efficient motorway is the key to revenue growth: “We like fast rides, happy customers and happy crews.” Franchisees operate approximately 95 percent of McDonald’s locations in the US.

Shares of McDonald’s have fallen about 9 percent so far this year. That’s less than the drop in SP 500 index. The stock has 27 buy ratings from Wall Street analysts, 11 held and only one sell recommendation.

Burger King is also rid of salads

The losers, of course, are health-conscious consumers whose options are now limited. Salads, which McDonald’s introduced decades ago and made up only a small percentage of sales, are still available in select local markets. But they are no longer on the McDonald’s website. There are currently no plans to bring them back nationally in the US. Also gone: the 250-calorie Egg White Delight McMuffin. That was rolled out with much fanfare in 2013 amid a nutrition push with Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. In comparison, a regular Egg McMuffin has 310 calories.

McDonald’s still offers apple slices and oatmeal with fruit. But it’s clear that the fast food chain, which has been criticized for not offering more nutritional options, is focusing on core products. They include burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and desserts like a new McFlurry made with chocolate-covered pretzels. The company’s “Favourites Under 400 Calories” menu, which started in 2012, no longer exists. Offerings like kale salads and wraps with cucumbers and tomatoes have come and gone over the years.

The Chicago-based company says its menu is fueled by customers’ appetites. “Our transition to a limited menu, removing dozens of less popular national and regional dishes from menus, has simplified operations for our restaurant staff while improving our customers’ experience,” McDonald’s said in an emailed statement. “We continue to evaluate our menu through this lens to improve order accuracy and speed.”

Since COVID-19 has turned everyday life upside down, restaurant menus have been slashed by more than 10 percent on average, according to industry researcher Datassential. Nearly 60 percent of restaurants cut items last year, especially in the appetizer, dessert and beverage categories. That was a 37 percent increase from spending cuts last year. For example, Burger King has also phased out salads and removed it from the chain’s national menu in December.

Meanwhile, consumers are getting tired of cooking at home, benefiting restaurant sales. But businesses will have to work to keep the guests’ attention. McDonald’s healthy options, while never a major revenue driver, helped the company stand out, according to Tom Cook, director of restaurant consultant King-Casey.

Salads were aimed at female diners and mothers

“You always have to have something, something new to drive traffic, especially these days,” Cook said. In the mid-2000s, he teamed up with McDonald’s to introduce a handful of new salads, including one with apples. Mr Cook said the leafy green entrees were a big deal at the time, although management knew they would never compete with burger sales. The goal with salads was to attract female diners and especially mothers with children, he said.

“Here’s a case of knowing it’s never going to be popular and going to sell a lot, but we’re going to make a big story out of it to communicate that we’re healthy,” he said. “It had a very high priority.” Fast forward to today, and “they’re probably just saying, ‘we don’t really need that,'” Mr Cook said.

Just to be sure, the menus have also included indulgent items. They include the McChicken cookie and a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel with over 500 calories and half a day of salt. But McDonald’s seems to have gone further than some of its peers in cutting out low-calorie options. For example, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A still have salads and grilled chicken in their national lineup.

The story changes to some extent for McDonald’s abroad. Australia offers oat milk and in countries like Italy and the Netherlands salads are still on the menu. UK locations offer cucumber sticks. But the disappearance of healthy products at most of the chain’s 13,000 US locations is “a huge step backwards,” said Lindsay Moyer, senior nutritionist at the food and health watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“You have to wonder if McDonald’s has almost given up pretending they have something to offer people who want healthier products,” she said.

Bloomberg

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