The news that McDonald’s is including yogurt as an option in their Happy Meals should be, well, happy news. Especially since it’s a specially-formulated version of Go-Gurt that contains 25 percent less sugar than Go-Gurt sold in stores.
But I’m not cheering. When I attended the McDonald’s shareholders meeting last month with Corporate Accountability International (read, “What Happened When I Went To McDonald’s HQ“), it was clear that the milk and apples (and now yogurt) are used strategically, trotted out whenever the company is accused of selling unhealthy food. Complaints that McDonald’s markets junk food to kids were met with a chorus of “But we have apples and milk!”
It’s also clear these menu items are designed to build brand loyalty. It’s all right there in the first sentence of the press release McDonald’s issued about the yogurt:
“McDonald’s USA is offering guests new reasons to feel good about the fun and the food at McDonald’s with the addition of a new yogurt side option for kids and a Happy Meal brand ambassador.”
In other words, the yogurt is supposed to make parents (read: moms) feel better about McDonald’s. So moms will take their kids to McDonald’s, and the kids will get hooked on the food and the brand. And I’m pretty sure those kids won’t be ordering apples, milk, and yogurt when they’ve got their own money in their pockets. They’ll be ordering soda, burgers, and fries–which is where McDonald’s really earns its profits.
As Daniel Kline wrote last month on The Motley Fool:
“The problem is that rather than making a commitment to improve the overall quality of its food, the fast food chain seems committed to meaningless changes. A mascot that tells kids about healthy eating may have been a good idea in 1984 but at least in the way McDonald’s is executing it now, it’s an outdated concept that won’t change the behavior of any appreciable amount of kids. The same is true of adding yogurt. The intent is good but it’s just window dressing to make it seem like the company cares.”
As I’ve said before, I certainly don’t judge families who spin through the drive-thru. I know people are busy. I know a lot of kids like McDonald’s. If your children like yogurt and you choose it over the fries for their Happy Meals, that’s okay. But don’t let McDonald’s fool you into thinking the yogurt means they care about your kids or their health, or that they’re not lying in wait for your child to grow out of their Happy Meals–and into their Extra Value Meals.