Fast-food giants such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s again made fresh produce-related headlines in 2014. McDonald’s not only promised higher nutrition standards for its menu items but also added Cuties clementines to its Happy Meal lineup, while Wendy’s focused on its growing niche, fresh salads. Other restaurants followed suit with promises to use more fresh fruits and vegetables in their offerings.

Feb. 10
McDonald’s test-markets Cuties in Happy Meals
By Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

Fast-food giant McDonald’s is test-marketing Cuties mandarins at restaurants in Austin, Texas.

5. Fast-food fresh produceBeginning Feb. 3, Cuties, a product of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific, are a side choice in Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals at Austin McDonald’s, according to a McDonald’s news release.

Cuties also can be purchased individually at participating restaurants.

On Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15, a free Cuties mandarin will be given to everyone at participating restaurants who buys a Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal and chooses another side.

In 2012 McDonald’s began automatically adding apple slices to its Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. The company says it has served more than 850 million bags of apple slices since early 2012.

During the test-market period, McDonald’s and Cuties will support local public relations and targeted social media campaigns, according to a Sun Pacific news release.

 

March 17
Produce shines as restaurant menus get healthier
By Tom Burfield, Western Correspondent

If you have any doubt that restaurant menus are offering more healthful fare through increased fresh-cut and value-added produce offerings, consider these developments:

  • Longhorn Steakhouse has added brussels sprouts au gratin to its menu and says the offering has become its most popular side dish. In January, the company rolled out butternut squash risotto.
  • The Cheesecake Factory is looking to build meals around kale, broccolini and even rainbow carrots.
  • Parmesan roasted asparagus with balsamic glaze turned out to be the top-selling selection when Olive Garden recently tested a new “small plate” menu.
  • McDonald’s announced this fall that it is partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, to increase customers’ access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed choices in keeping with balanced lifestyles.

5. Fast-food fresh produceThe incidence of vegetables on menus has risen more than 11% in the past three years, according to research firm Technomic. Kale, cauli-flower and zucchini were listed as standouts.

“Different preparation methods, like roasting brussels sprouts or caramelizing root vegetables, have had a big influence on the way vegetables are menued,” Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, said in a news release.

“Approximately 80% of consumers believe it is important for restaurants to feature more produce,” Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential, wrote in a guest post on PMA’s Xchange blog. “And operators are anticipating the future of produce as well: 82% believe produce will be important to their operation in the next few years.”

Produce suppliers say they, too, have noticed the healthy-eating trend at foodservice.

“Definitely, a lot of menu trends are to lighter, healthier choices,” said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales for Gold Coast Packing Inc., Santa Maria, Calif.

Many chains that have used individually quick-frozen products are starting to look more to the fresh side, he said.

 

March 31
Wendy’s offers new ‘Salad Collection’
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

5. Fast-food fresh produceThe Wendy’s Co. is using a high fashion approach to promote leafy greens with model Molly Sims sharing her runway expertise for the fast food chain’s new Spring Salad Collection.

Sims kicked off Wendy’s salad marketing campaign at one of the company’s New York City locations, according to a news release from the Dublin, Ohio-based restaurant chain. Two new salads are available now: Asian cashew chicken and BBQ ranch chicken.

To promote the new salads, as well as its existing salad line, Wendy’s is running a four-part consumer contest in conjunction with Polyvore, a fashion website. Sims, known for her work with Cover Girl and Chanel, will judge the contest.

Consumers are expected to create online style boards inspired by the flavors and colors of Wendy’s new salads.

“Fashion inspiration can come from anywhere,” Sims said in the release. “I love how Wendy’s is rolling out their new salads like a fashion line and can’t wait to see how fashion lovers like me are inspired by them.”

 

May 12
McDonald’s sets goal of doubling fresh produce
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

McDonald’s Corp. has made much ado about its goal of doubling servings of fresh fruits and vegetables worldwide by the year 2020, but specific details on how the chain plans to make that happen are light.

“To achieve this goal, we’ll build on menu innovation successes such as the McDonald’s Premium McWrap, which contains vegetables … as well as the inclusion of apple slices in every Happy Meal in the U.S.,” said Cindy Goody, senior director of nutrition and menu innovation.

The McWraps launched in the U.S. in April 2013 and the chain added sliced apples to U.S. Happy Meals in March 2012. In other parts of the world McDonald’s has been offering some of those items since at least 2004, when a version of the McWrap was introduced in the Czech Republic, according to Business Week magazine.

In 2013 the company — which has more than 34,000 restaurants worldwide — promised to implement healthier menu options in 30% to 50% of its markets within three years and in 100% by 2020.

At that time, additional fresh fruit and vegetable items were already available in many other countries.

Carrot sticks were an option in 23 countries, but not the U.S., and in Europe fruit bags with grapes and sliced apples were already on the menu.

In some Latin America countries the chain also offers fruits on a stick, including kiwifruit and watermelon wedges. McDonald’s menus in those countries also offer fresh pineapple spears and melon wedges.

It’s unknown if McDonald’s 2020 plan includes any of those items in the U.S. The goal of doubling fruit and vegetable servings is for the company’s “top nine” markets, which are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

“Our menu team is constantly looking at viable options for the future,” a McDonald’s spokesman said.

The most recent corporate promise to “serve 100% more fruits and vegetables” in McDonald’s top nine markets by 2020 is part of the multinational’s Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability Framework that was unveiled April 30.

The framework and its goals are in the company’s 116-page 2012-13 report on its annual report on corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

Other than listing steps taken in the past, the new report and sustainability document do not include specifics on how the goal to serve twice as many fresh fruits and vegetables will be met.

 

July 21
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s highlight healthier fare
By Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are promoting healthier menu items through new websites.

In early July, the fast-food restaurants, operated by the Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., launched their “Other Side” websites.

The sites are the backwards spellings of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s current brand website addresses: www.rjslrac.com and www.seedrah.com.

The sites promote the chains’ lesser-known menu offerings that include items with lower carbohydrates, fewer calories and lower fat.

Diners can “veg it” by substituting a vegetable patty with produce toppings for meat and “low carb it” allows customers to turn any burger into a lettuce wrap.

“Swap your combo” allows diners to exchange fries and soft drinks for a salad and bottled water.

The “Other Side” menus include a variety of charbroiled turkey burgers are under 500 calories, charbroiled chicken offerings, lettuce-wrapped 100% black angus beef burgers (including a low-carb thickburger that features 38 grams of protein) and vegetarian options.

The menu items have been offered for several years but the chains decided to market them in a new way, said Melissa Robinson, senior vice president of corporate communications and public affairs.

 

Aug. 18
Cuties passes market tests to be added to Happy Meals
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

Sun Pacific’s Cuties clementines are set to become part of McDonald’s Happy Meals after a test period in the Austin, Texas, market this past winter.

“About all we can say right now is that it is going to happen,” said Barney Evans, vice president of the Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific. “I think we will know a lot more in a month.”

McDonald’s officials told The Bakersfield Californian that details about the Cuties deal could change because franchise holders will have to approve the Cuties plan before it goes nationwide. Lisa McComb, director of media relations for McDonald’s, said the test in the Austin market had concluded, but would not provide additional details.

In May, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition and menu innovation Cindy Goody said the restaurant chain realizes that it has the potential to affect what consumers eat and it plans to expand fruit and vegetable menu options.

The test in Austin in February included offering a Cutie as a side choice with Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. There were also two weekend promotions for a free Cutie to every customer who bought a Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal and chose another side.

 

Aug. 25
Bananas get test run for Happy Meals
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

Bananas, blueberries and grapes could join Cuties clementines and apple slices on McDonald’s menus as the restaurant chain continues efforts to help parents feel better about Happy Meals.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. is supplying junior bananas for a test in the Austin, Texas, market, said Terri Hickey, a media relations manager for McDonald’s USA. The juniors are between 5.5 and 7 inches long and fit in children’s hands better than larger fruit.

If the bananas prove popular, they could be added to menus across the U.S. as a standard side item in Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals, Hickey said. A similar test with Cuties included 100 restaurants in the Austin area and ran for about 12 weeks.

Greg Watson, senior vice president of menu innovation for McDonald’s, told USA Today that the fruit tests are part of a larger plan.

“This is part of the journey we started four years ago to make Mom feel better about Happy Meals,” Watson told the newspaper.

He said the feedback from the Cuties test was “overwhelmingly positive.”

McDonald’s is considering testing blueberries and grapes, Watson told USA Today. Grapes are already available at McDonald’s locations in Europe. In May 2012, the restaurant chain added blueberries from NaturipeFarms LLC as an oatmeal topping for a limited time.

Barney Evans, vice president of Cuties supplier Sun Pacific, Pasadena, Calif., said the company is very happy with the opportunity to have its clementines on the McDonald’s menu.

Cuties will be a side option for kids’ meals and also will be offered as a separate menu item. During the Austin test they sold for 50 cents each, Hickey said. Cuties join apple slices as the second fresh fruit option available for kids’ meals.

McDonald’s began adding apple slices to Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals in 2012. Hickey said the restaurant chain has served more than 1.1 billion bags of apple slices since early 2012.

 

Dec. 8
Penguins pushing Cuties this season for McDonald’s
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

5. Fast-food fresh produceMcDonald’s USA LLC revealed earlier this year that Cuties would be available in Happy Meals beginning this season, but not until the official Dec. 1 launch did it become apparent that penguins would be pushing the fruit for the restaurant chain.

The Cuties clementines and mandarins from Sun Pacific Cos., Pasadena, Calif., passed popularity tests in about 70 McDonald’s restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area earlier this year, cementing their place on the fast food chain’s menu, according to a news release from the Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s.

Coinciding with the Cuties launch, Happy Meals currently include toy figures from the animated movie “Penguins from Madagascar.” An advertising campaign with the waddling birds whooping it up for Cuties is playing out on televisions across the country.

The California citrus fruit will be available at the restaurants through March as a side option in kids’ meals and as a standalone side option.

“We know our customers and parents are looking for ways to enjoy more great-tasting and fun sides in our Happy Meals, and Cuties are the perfect fit,” Greg Watson, McDonald’s senior vice president of menu innovation, said in the release.

“As part of our commitment to help families make more nutritious choices, we’ll continue to explore more fruit and low-fat dairy sides for our youngest customers.”

The fast food chain is testing so-called junior bananas supplied by Chiquita according to media relations manager Terri Hickey. A successful test could see bananas join the fresh fruit sides lineup at McDonald’s locations as soon as next year, according to the Dec. 1 release.

The Cuties launch is the latest step in McDonald’s “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices,” which began in 2011. In March 2012 McDonald’s began automatically including apple slices in every Happy Meal. Since then, more than 1.2 billion bags of apple slices have been served, according to the news release.