Bruce Horovitz / USAToday
Under pressure to make its Happy Meals more nutritionally friendly, McDonald's on Monday announced plans to add yogurt as an option.
Beginning July 4, the burger behemoth will offer a 50-calorie version of Go-Gurt Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt as a Happy Meal side option. This Go-Gurt is made specifically for McDonald's by General Mills with 25% less sugar -- about 6 grams -- than conventional Yoplait Go-Gurt, says Julie Wenger, senior director of U.S. marketing at McDonald's.
'Parents and kids tell us they're looking for more choice -- and more healthful choices in Happy Meals,' says Wenger.
One nutrition expert says the move is minor. 'It's good they're adding another option, but they've still got a long ways to go,' says Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy at Center for Science in the Public Interest. 'I'd be much more excited if they added more fruit or vegetable items.'
Wootan objects to the fact that kids-size fries still will be a default side item in Happy Meals, with customers asked to pick apple slices or yogurt as the second side. Wootan says that apple slices and yogurt should be the defaults -- and customers made to request fries.
But Wenger says more than 90% of customers choose fries every time with Happy Meals, so it was the natural default. She notes that now customers can request yogurt and apple slices with Happy Meals and nix the fries.
Wenger says McDonald's tested a portable yogurt product in Happy Meals about a decade ago, but it didn't sell. 'It was an idea ahead of its time,' she says. Yogurt already is a Happy Meal option in Canada, she says.
McDonald's will introduce in the U.S. this week a new, animated character, 'Happy' -- a smiling, Happy Meal box -- to promote fruits, veggies and wholesome eating, Wenger says, and later this year will stop promoting soft drinks for Happy Meal on menu boards in the U.S. and only promote milk, juice or water.
McDonald's also is testing the Cuties clementine and mandarin orange brand in Austin. It's the first time McDonald's has made whole fruit -- uncut and unprocessed -- a U.S. Happy Meal option, says Wenger.
Wootan, the nutritionist, likes that one. 'That seems innovative,' she says. 'Kids like them, and they're easy to peel.'