Industry News | January 22, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

McDonald's Is Bringing Cuties Back

image used with permission.

McDonald’s is betting on a continued winning streak with the return of Cutie brand clementines to both its Happy Meals and a la carte menu.

Last week the fast-food leader brought back the seasonal fruit, which will be available nationwide through early May. This reintroduction comes just a few months after McDonald’s launched its highly anticipated all-day breakfast campaign, which is already off to a strong start. According to the NPD Group, new customers accounted for one-third of breakfast item orders during nontraditional dayparts.

Given the Cuties’ brand recognition and past success, McDonald’s expects they will be well received once again.

“They were very popular when they were in restaurants previously, and they really are a great compliment to the menu to supplement all of the other wonderful ingredients we have including apple slices and low-fat yogurt. … All of this work is really in an effort to build a better McDonald’s,” says Chef Jessica Foust, director of culinary innovation. In addition to her chef credentials, Foust is also a registered dietician, lending her a dual perspective when it comes to menu development. She says she is proud of the progress the brand has made over the last few years, such as committing to source cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken.

Changes within the limited-service category—evolving consumer tastes, the advent of fast casual, and shifting health directives—have sent McDonald’s on something of a soul search. For a while the brand was populating its menu with such a wide variety of salads, smoothies, and other new items that the original, core items were lost in the mix.

“In general [we’re] just taking a look at all of our ingredients across the menu and going back to the basics. A good proof point of that is going back to our original, iconic ingredients for the Egg McMuffin and bringing butter back to the recipe,” Foust says. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the past year or so really taking a hard look at ingredients, and Cuties fit within our strategy for really delivering quality, fresh, seasonal flavors that our customers feel good about.”

By year end, McDonald’s expect to have sold more than 2 billion servings of fruit and low-fat yogurt through its Happy Meals since 2012.

Rich in Vitamin C and totaling only about 35 calories, Cuties are a wholesome option, Foust says. The Cuties brand does market itself as a kids’ snack, and if past numbers from its previous run are any indication, it is. When McDonald’s first offered cuties back in December 2014 through March 2015, only about 17 percent purchases were a la carte, meaning that the vast majority were consumed through kids’ meals.

“It’s like nature’s perfect snack. You don’t have to do anything to it; it’s easier for kids to peel, which is critical,” Foust says. “When you’re trying to get your children to eat more produce items, it’s pretty easy when you have such a great-tasting ingredient to work with.”

The Cuties return also supports the goals set out by McDonald’s in conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. During the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, the company pledged to increase customer access to fresh vegetables and fruit with specific benchmarks encompassing 85 percent of its global sales by 2020.

By Nicole Duncan

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