Why I’m Not Lovin’ McDonald’s New Go-Gurt

by Sally on June 24, 2014

Why I'm Not Lovin' McDonalds Go-Gurt

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!”

Why I'm Not Lovin' McDonald's Go-Gurt

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about healthy eating may have been a good idea in 1984 but at least in the way McDonald’s is executing it now, it’s an outdated concept that won’t change the behavior of any appreciable amount of kids.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.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Hanna June 25, 2014 at 8:44 am

Great analysis, Sally, I love your point that the yogurt specifically aims to assuage parents’ concerns, while simultaneously pushing an unhealthy brand on children.

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Sally June 26, 2014 at 7:12 am

Thanks Hanna. And thank YOU for all the work CAI does on this issue!

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Casey June 25, 2014 at 10:45 am

I agree with you and the research backs up those concerns: “Television adverts for McDonald’s healthier Happy Meal deals fail to encourage children to choose food that is better for them and instead promote a general preference for fast food, academic research suggests.” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/31/mcdonalds-happy-meal-adverts-dont-help-children-choose-healthy-food?CMP=twt_gu

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Sally June 26, 2014 at 7:12 am

Thanks Casey! That was such an interesting study.

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Dawn June 25, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I agree that adding yogurt as a Happy Meal choice doesn’t really do much to improve the healthfulness of McDonald’s. Fast food is generally not an ideal choice, but I don’t think it’s the real problem. We need to use McDonald’s and other encounters our children have with advertising to discuss what advertising is and what healthy eating (and spending) is.

McDonald’s sells hamburgers. It’s what they do. So does Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Jack In the Box and many other fast food restaurants with fewer healthy options. They have recently added salads, yogurt & apples as “healthy” choices, but what do you really hope for in asking them to change?

Even if McDonald’s suddenly started selling grilled chicken breasts & fish with grilled vegetables and brown rice, our children would still be inundated with advertising messages for unhealthy foods: chips & soda, candy bars, ice cream treats… we can’t make it all go away.

We need to teach them that healthy food can be delicious and unhealthy treats are best consumed only occasionally or in small servings. AND we need to help low income people (who often don’t live near a grocery store) access healthy foods.

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Sally June 26, 2014 at 7:11 am

Hi Dawn–I completely agree that children need to be made aware of the truth behind the advertising (Dina Rose just did a good post about that here: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/home/2014/6/23/revealing-the-truth-in-advertising.html). I talk to my children about advertising, and it was an especially interesting conversation during the Olympics. While education is important, I believe more needs to be done. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics say that the advertising of non-nutritious food to children is a problem. A huge amount of McD advertising is targeted to children and adolescents–and clearly, clowns and toys appeal to very, very young children. McDonald’s claims they are also promoting “healthy foods” like apples and milk. But they are promoting brand loyalty. And their brand is built around unhealthy food. I also agree that more education needs to be done, in terms of exposing more children to whole foods–this is especially critical for children who live in areas populated by fast food restaurants and few places that sell fresh food. Yet in my opinion, corporations bear some responsibility, especially one that feeds millions of people, and especially one that makes a very big show of caring about families and wanting to do right by moms. Thanks again for contributing to this discussion!

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Amber June 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Hmmm…yogurt has been included in our happy meals here for awhile, I’d say at least a couple of years (I’m in Canada). It’s not just a side option, it’s the default, they get that and a very small order of fries or apples.

I agree with Dawn, though – McDonald’s is doing what McDonald’s does and I don’t expect a major turnaround. I do appreciate the healthier options (the grilled chicken, the veggie filled wraps, etc)- they still aren’t perfect, but they are better IMO.

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Sally June 26, 2014 at 6:59 am

Hi Amber–The reformulated Go-Gurt is new for the U.S. (the lower-sugar version). I understand your opinion and know that a lot of parents do appreciate the healthier options. The healthier options are quite limited for older children though. And teens are a huge market for them. If McDonald’s can get kids in the habit of going to McDonald’s at a young age it builds a habit and brand loyalty. They’re looking to create lifelong customers who will buy the items they make the most money from (burgers, fries, soda). That’s what worries me. I appreciate your comment!

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Melanie Silverman June 26, 2014 at 12:43 am

Wonderful post (as always!) Your points are excellent.

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Sally June 26, 2014 at 7:13 am

Thank you Melanie!

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Robin Z July 6, 2014 at 10:30 am

Another Canadian here, the yogurt comes on top of everything else in the Happy Meal, not as a default, and I object to that since yogurt is pretty filled with sugar and not the magic healthy food it’s portrayed to be. I noticed my kids did get a yogurt tube on their last monthly visit to McDonald’s, so maybe it is the reformulated version. I still think it’s a crock and just adds calories to an already unhealthy meal.
My 8 year old can already identify that he is almost always hungry about an hour after eating a happy meal, and that it’s not a healthy choice, so once he gets over the allure of the cheap plastic toys we might not need to ever go anymore, not even once a month.

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