Arby’s announced in an exclusive interview with QSR that it is unveiling a new, healthier kids’ meal strategy and leveraging it to raise money to fight childhood hunger.
On Monday, the Atlanta-based company will debut two new kids’ meal entrees and replace fries with apple slices and strawberry yogurt dipping sauce as a side to every option on its Kids Meal menu.
The Arby’s Foundation will then use the roll out to support the company’s new partnership with Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign, which seeks to end childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2015. Arby’s aims to raise $1 million for the “No Kid Hungry” campaign by the end of the year.
Hala Moddelmog, president of Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc.  and chair of the Arby’s Foundation, says the two campaigns work in concert with each other to benefit healthy eating in the U.S.
“We loved the synergy of having a good kids’ meal that the moms would like and the kids would like, and letting the moms and the rest of our consumers be able to contribute to ‘No Kid Hungry’ and this hunger movement through this,” Moddelmog says to QSR.
The two new entrees joining the Kids Meal menu at Arby’s include a Jr. Turkey and Cheese Sandwich and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
Kids can also choose among low-fat white milk, Capri Sun 100% Fruit Juice, or bottled water for their beverage.
The new Kids Meal offerings reduce calories by 40 percent, fat by 70 percent, and sodium by 50 percent compared with its previous offerings.
Moddelmog says that when Arby’s went through its last round of customer research, it focused mostly on its mom clientele.
“The moms told us that they wanted some healthier choices available, and the apples and the yogurt sauce were definitely popular items, so that was a no-brainer to get that in there,” she says.
Arby’s announcement of a healthier kids’ menu follows in the footsteps of other quick serves that have moved to make their kids’ offerings healthier.
In July, the National Restaurant Association launched its “Kids LiveWell” program with 19 partner brands, establishing a set of nutritional criteria that brands could voluntarily follow.
Days later, McDonald’s announced that beginning this year, every Happy Meal would include apple slices as the default side item and that the portion size of a kids’ fries would shrink.
Moddelmog says Arby’s has “had a bit of an advantage” when it comes to consumers’ desire for healthier dining options
“Our customers have been telling us for a long time that they feel a little better about eating Arby’s, they feel a little lighter, they feel a little healthier, a little more balanced with an Arby’s purchase,” she says. “What we really wanted to do is … make sure that we call that out for our moms and kids.”
Julie Casey is a mom blogger and founder of MyKidsPlate.com, a website that points families toward healthier restuarant options. She says chains’ addition of healthier choices to kids’ menus is a good move. But she still has her reservations.
“Why does everybody keep doing apples?” Casey says. “Can someone please get more creative and do orange slices or grapes? Let’s start offering some different stuff.”
Variety, Casey says, is what many moms tell her they want for their kids at restaurants.
“When you offer one entree or one side item that’s a healthy option, do you want people to just order that one thing over and over again?” she says. “Variety is huge, especially now.
“Kids want more options, moms want more options. That’s the name of the game these days, especially as kids are more willing to try new things than they ever have before.”
That variety may have to wait, though. Moddelmog says the sheer size of Arby’s system mandated an efficient roll out of its new items.
“We know with 3,600 restaurants, rolling out anything new is a feat, but part of what we tried to do with the kids’ meal is really keep it simple for our operators,” she says. “So the apple slices and yogurt come prepackaged and ready to go, and the Macaroni & Cheese is in a format that is easy to deliver.”
Arby’s will then donate a portion of every Kids Meal purchase to the “No Kid Hungry” campaign. Moddelmog says there will also be literature in stores that highlights the campaign’s mission, so customers can educate themselves and their families on the issue.
“Picture this: There are a lot children in America who are on the free lunch program, and that is great during the school year, but during the summer, where do these kids get their food?” she says.
“One of the things we want to help do with ‘No Kid Hungry’ is activate feeding sites in the summer that are accessible for the children so that they can get food then.”
Moddelmog says the new efforts by Arby’s are a ,“first line of defense so that [kids] can have calories and have their energy to learn, because at the end of the day, we must have a society that can learn and help us all grow.”
“We feel like this is a pretty broad mission,” Moddelmog says.
For more from Hala Moddelmog's interview with QSR, click here.