Two years ago, McDonald’s outlined a series of Global Happy Meal Goals. The company Wednesday shared updates as it hit the halfway mark of its original 2022 deadline.
Since 2018’s announcement, McDonald’s has sold more than 2.5 billion Happy Meals containing fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, water, lean protein or whole grains.
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“We know how important it is to give parents menu choices they can feel good about feeding their children,” said Julia Braun, McDonald’s director of global nutrition, in a statement. “We recognize there’s always more work to do in this space, and we remain committed to using our size and scale to support children and families as we continue to evolve the Happy Meal.”
Let’s start with the 2022 targets.
No. 1: Offer balanced meals
McDonald’s said 50 percent or more of Happy Meal Bundle offerings listed on menus would meet the company’s nutrition criteria of less than or equal to 600 calories, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, 650mg sodium, and 10 percent of calories from added sugar. Back in 2018, 28 percent of Happy Meals offered on menuboards in its top 20 major markets fit the bill. (Note, this market group, referred to often in this update, contributes nearly 85 percent of McDonald’s global sales. It’s comprised of Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.).
Goal No. 2: Simplify ingredients
The chain plans to remove artificial flavors and added colors from artificial
sources from all Happy Meal Bundle offerings. It will also reduce artificial preservatives in Happy Meal Bundle Offerings, where feasible, without sacrificing safety, taste, quality, or value of food.
In 2016, McDonald’s U.S. stores removed artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, which also have no artificial flavors and colors. Two years later, McDonald’s also shrunk the fries and removed cheeseburgers from domestic Happy Meals. When the outline was provided in November of that year, Dasani bottled water was added as a featured beverage choice for all Happy Meals. It was prominently displayed on menuboards. Additionally, domestic stores reformulated Yoplait Go-GURT Low Fat Strawberry Yogurt. Made exclusively for McDonald’s, it contained no artificial preservatives, still didn’t have colors or flavors from artificial sources and provided 25 percent less sugar than the leading kids’ Yogurt.
When McDonald’s made its February change (shrinking fries and removing cheeseburgers), new Happy Meal menuboards listed only the following entrée choices: Hamburger, 4-piece, and 6-piece Chicken McNuggets. Guests could special order cheeseburgers if they wanted.
McDonald’s replaced the small French fries with kids-sized fries in the 6-piece Chicken McNugget meal, which decreased the calories and sodium in the fries serving by half.
The chain reformulated chocolate milk as well to reduce the amount of added sugar. As this process unfolded, McDonald’s removed chocolate milk from the Happy Meal menu. Again, though, it was available at request. McDonald’s brought back Reduced Sugar Low Fat Chocolate Milk to restaurants in March 2020 (14 grams of sugar versus average 23 grams at leading quick-serves).
In December 2017, the brand completed a transition to Honest Kids Appley Ever After organic juice, which featured 45 less calories and half the total sugar of the prior product.
In all, McDonald’s busy menu changes produced average reductions of 20 percent in calories, 50 percent in added sugars, 13 percent in saturated fat and/or 17 percent in sodium, depending on the customer’s specific selection.
Goal No. 3: Be transparent with Happy Meal nutrition information
McDonald’s expects to make nutrition information available for all Happy Meals on its owned websites and mobile apps used for ordering where they exist.
Goal No. 4: Market responsibly
By 2020, all bundles advertised to children will meet McDonald’s nutrition criteria and continue to satisfy existing applicable local/regional advertising pledges with respect to marketing to children.
Goal No. 5: Increase purchase of items containing recommended food groups in Happy Meals
McDonald’s said it would leverage innovative marketing to help increase purchase of foods and beverages that contained recommended food groups in Happy Meals.
Essentially, McDonald’s will use scale, from packaging and promotions to new technology, like kiosks and mobile apps, to serve more fruit, vegetables, and grains in Happy Meals. The goal took it a step further by including a measurement component and promise to externally share best practices and results in transparent fashion.
Where McDonald’s is today
Goal No. 1
McDonald’s said Wednesday an average of 43 percent of Happy Meal Bundle offerings met the nutrition criteria across the 20 major markets in 2019 (up from 32 percent).
Eight of McDonald’s 20 major markets met the 2022 goal in 2019, up from three markets the year before.
Average nutritional profile of Happy Meal Bundle Offerings shown on menuboards across the 20 major markets:
- 2018: 478
- 2019: 450
Mg of sodium
- 2018: 634
- 2019: 597
Grams of saturated fat
- 2018: 4.9
- 2019: 4.3
Grams of added sugar
- 2018: 7.3
- 2019: 5.9
One example: In 2019, McDonald’s China revamped its Happy Meal Bundle offering, which now automatically includes a fruit or vegetable, as the second side.
Goal No. 2
Currently, 93 percent of Happy Meal menu items feature no artificial flavors, added colors from artificial sources, or artificial preservatives that could be feasibly reduced in early 2020.
Twelve of McDonald’s major markets met the 2022 goal earlier this year. Eighteen of those have no artificial flavors in any Happy Meal offerings.
Seventeen boast no added colors from artificial sources. Thirteen reduced or removed artificial preservatives where possible.
Goal No. 3
McDonald’s top 20 major markets provided complete nutrition information for an average of 88 percent of Happy Meal menu items on their websites and 87 percent on qualifying mobile ordering apps in mid-2020.
Twelve of the 20 markets met McDonald’s 2022 goal in Q2 of this year, up from six markets in Q1 2019. The same number provided complete nutrition information on their websites. Seven featured qualifying mobile apps that provided complete data.
Average share of Happy Meal menu items on websites and mobile apps with complete, partial, or unavailable nutrient information in in Q1 2019 and Q2 2020:
- Complete: 80 percent
- Partial: 11 percent
- Unavailable: 9 percent
- Complete: 88 percent
- Partial: 8 percent
- Unavailable: 4 percent
- Complete: 37 percent
- Partial: 16 percent
- Unavailable: 47 percent
- Complete: 87 percent
- Partial: 1 percent
- Unavailable: 12 percent
In the McDonald’s France mobile app, for example, users can access nutrition information for Happy Meal items within the ordering sequence in just one tap.
Goal No. 4
Eighty-three percent of all Happy Meal Bundles shown in children’s ads met the criteria in 2019, on average.
Sixteen markets satisfied the 2022 goal in 2019. Meanwhile, 100 percent of ads shown to children across the 20 major markets that featured Happy Meal menu items included water, milk, or juice as a beverage and fruit, vegetables, or dairy as a side. That broke down, by average share of unique children’s advertisements with Happy Meal bundles that featured water, milk, or juice:
- Water: 33 percent
- Milk: 37 percent
- Juice: 23 percent
- Multiple: 7 percent
- Vegetables: 14 percent
- Dairy: 1 percent
- Fruit: 28 percent
- Multiple: 57 percent
For example, in the U.S., the Happy Meal Bundle featured in all children’s advertisements included 4-pice Chicken McNuggets, Kids Fries, Milk, and Apple Slices.
Goal No. 5
Roughly 2.5 billion Happy Meal items sold in 2018 and 2019 in those 20 major markets contained recommended food groups.
Sixteen markets sold an increased share of Happy Meals containing recommended food groups in 2019 versus 2018. Fifty percent of all beverages sold in Happy Meals last year were water, milk, or juice.
McDonald’s Spain changed its Happy Meal packaging to feature Melon Slices in August 2019. Consequently, the share of customers selecting Melon Slices increased by 29 percent compared to August 2018.
“When access to balanced food options is more important than ever, we applaud McDonald’s for their ongoing commitment to progress, and we look forward to continuing to play a critical role in facilitating their completion of all five Global Happy Meal Goals by the end of 2022,” said Kathy Higgins, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, in a statement.