McDonald's this week said it would offer value menu customers a side of salad, fruit or vegetables as an alternative to French fries in a move that some analysts attributed to an attempt to boost static sales.
The arrangement will be set in motion in the fast food giant's 20 top markets, including the U.S. The company also said it would promote and market only water, milk and juice as the beverage for children's Happy Meals while also trying to heighten kids' interest in produce options.
Additionally, the chain said it would ensure that all of its advertising directed at children would include a message about nutrition or wellbeing, as will dedicated panels on Happy Meal boxes or bags.
McDonald's said it worked on the pledges with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which was founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Assn. The announcement was made Thursday by McDonald's Chief Executive Don Thompson, former President Clinton and AHG Chief Executive Dr. Howell Wechsler.
McDonald's said it would bring in an independent, third-party assessor to track its progress on the commitment. The company expects to roll out the new plans in up to half of the 20 markets within three years, completing implementation by 2020.
Some analysts, such as Nick Setyan of Wedbush Securities, said McDonald’s was trying to reverse ongoing weakness in sales by tapping into an increasingly healthful mind-set among its customers, particularly women and mothers.
It's the same desire tapped earlier this week by Burger King, which launched a low-fat, crinkle-cut French fry called "Satisfries." The chain said the fries have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories than the fries at rival McDonald's.
"They're trying to tweak the menu to try to be more in line with ongoing trends," he said. "If anything, McDonald's is a little late to the game."
Setyan also said McDonald's may be trying to differentiate itself from other quick-service competitors with a wider range of options for a low price.
"They're positioning themselves for the start of a price war," he said. "I've seen prices being cut even at the high end in the industry, as consumers become even more price conscious."
McDonald's said specific options for substitute menu items would vary by market.