I've been in the Northwest covering some story angles for upcoming pear tab and I've seen the giant news in The Packer this week about sliced apples in Happy Meals.

One source in the industry said "back of the napkin" computations said that fresh sliced demand could increase to as much as 20% of the total crop in response to the fast food titan's move.

 It seems the consensus of people I talked to was that keeping a token amount of fries in the Happy Meal was a smart move. Don't create a backlash that would counter the positive news about a more healthful Happy Meal.

 Here is coverage from The Packer:

Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA, said during a July 26 webcast that by including the apples with the fries it will mean "no more food fights between parents and kids" because both items will be standard. The rollout of the new Happy Meals begins in September in select markets and should be nationwide with all 14,000 U.S. restaurants by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

In addition to adding peeled apple slices to the kids’ meals, McDonald’s is reducing the serving size of the fries in the kids’ meals. The Happy Meals have had 2.4 ounces of fries. That will be reduced to 1.1 ounces, equaling about 100 calories. The overall effect, according to a news release from McDonald’s, will be a 20% reduction in the calories of a traditional Happy Meal. The new meals will also be lower in fat.

The sliced, peeled apple packets in the new Happy Meals will be in ¼ cup servings and parents will have the option to request double apples and nix the fries. The restaurant chain is also introducing 1% chocolate milk along with its 1% white milk to help reduce overall fat intake for children.

 Here is the excerpt from the July 26 McDonald's press release:

New Happy Meal: McDonald’s will begin rolling out the new Happy Meal in September 2011, with the goal of having them available in all 14,000 restaurants during Q1 2012.  The new Happy Meal will automatically include both produce (apple slices, a quarter cup or half serving) and a new smaller size French fries (1.1 ounces) along with the choice of a Hamburger, Cheeseburger or Chicken McNuggets, and choice of beverage, including new fat-free chocolate milk and 1% low fat white milk. For those customers who prefer a side choice of apples only, two bags of apple slices will be available, upon request.

 By adding fruit in every Happy Meal, McDonald’s hopes to address a challenge children face in meeting the recommended daily consumption of produce. McDonald’s has offered apples as a requested choice in Happy Meals since 2004. And, while recent research found that on average, 88 percent of McDonald’s customers are aware of the option, apples are chosen in only 11 percent of Happy Meal purchases.

 “Recent research has shown that younger children are consuming more fruits and vegetables, but we still have a long way to go to increase consumption to meet daily recommendations for these important food groups,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation. “McDonald’s announcement to include apples in every Happy Meal and being one of the first quick service restaurant to do so - further strengthens their seven years of support in our campaign to educate children and their parents on the benefits of fruits and vegetables.”

For many months and in some cases, years, McDonald’s has been engaging suppliers, government and non-government organizations to determine ways it could play a role in helping society address today’s obesity concerns. McDonald’s will develop additional fruit and vegetable choices and expects them to roll out over the next few years. The company will continue to evaluate new scientific research, public health statistics and customer insights and behavior to determine further nutrition adaptations to Happy Meals.

 “McDonald’s agrees with leading food and nutrition experts that making incremental lifestyle modifications with food consumption may lead to improvements in an individual’s well-being,” said Cindy Goody, PhD, MBA, RD, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition. “We support parents in their effort to encourage their children to enjoy the foods that are good for them along with the foods they love.” 

 

What are the takeaways from the McDonald's announcement? I found it interesting that while 88% of customers were aware of the apple slices option, only 11% took advantage of it. Perhaps the official "sanction" of inclusion in the Happy Meal will create a real psychological boost to the image of apple slices. Psychology aside, inclusion of apple slices in Happy Meals will create a wonderful floor to the fresh apple market.

 I couldn't find an "official" count on the number of Happy Meals sold in a year. However, www.answerbag.com states that McDonald's sells approximately 2.5 million Happy Meals per year.

 If 2.5 million Happy Meals with one quarter cup of apples are sold, that would translate to 2.75 million cups of apple slices per year sold with Happy Meals. That is not to say how many apples were used to create 2.75 million cups of sliced apples; that depends on the "yield" at the fresh cut processing facilities. The CDC estimates that one cup is equal to about 1 small apple.

 Perhaps the 20% "back of the napkin" estimate for the fresh cut business is high, but there is no question that McDonald's move has made apple growers quite happy. And, coming full circle, isn't it about time pear growers had a slice of the fresh cut business?