The McDonald’s Happy Meal doesn’t exactly come to mind when one thinks of healthy food options for children. And that’s something they’re aiming to change. Happy Meals now include smaller portions and healthier options, because McDonalds knows if they are going to survive, they need to provide healthier options to their Millennial customers. And you know what, they’re right. They have to shape up when marketing healthy food.
Millennial parents may have grown up eating McDonald’s burgers and fries, but they certainly aren’t “lovin’ it” anymore. Parents are more likely to bring their kids to fast-casual restaurant with more perceived health benefits, like Chipotle or Panera Bread. A study by a restaurant consultancy found that fast-casual restaurant sales are up 5.2 among 22- to 37-year-olds, while McDonald’s sales fell flat for the same group.
So it’s no surprise to hear that McDonalds’ overall sales have been taking a hit for nearly a decade. In fact, sales have been slumping for so long, they decided to stop reporting monthly sales figures.
Now, McDonalds is betting on health. And Happy Meals.
When it comes to marketing food to children, no one has done it better than McDonalds. Little ones have always been an important demographic for the fast food chain. They know if they can reach kids at a young age, they’re more likely to crave their food as they enter adulthood.
Perhaps McDonalds’ most impressive marketing effort is the Happy Meal. Introduced in June 1979, the traditional Happy Meal contained a main item (burger or McNuggets), fries, a soft drink and a toy (often a tie-in to an existing TV show, movie or toy line). Something that those marketing healthy food would never touch.
The new and improved Happy Meal hit stores in 2011. The newly re-imagined meals still come with staples like hamburger, cheeseburgers and Chicken McNuggets, but now they’ve lowered the sodium and calories by decreasing the size of their fries from 2.4 to 1.1 ounces, and adding healthy sides like apple slices and yogurt. Sugary sodas are also no longer an option. Kids now have a choice of milk (1% white or chocolate) or apple juice.
McDonalds is banking on appealing to an all-new healthier generation of kids. This is an important lesson. If food brands (even ones perceived as being unhealthy) are going to survive, they need to reinvent themselves for Millennial needs. You need to offer new healthier food options, adjust the recipe of current products, and market yourself differently to Millennial parents.
Some trends pass us by. But healthy eating is here to stay. And if a fast food giant like McDonalds knows it, we should all probably take notice. Marketing healthy food just got a bit faster.