Coming soon to McDonald's Happy Meals: organic, watered-down juice

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FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2014, file photo, a customer walks past a statue of Ronald McDonald on display outside a McDonald's restaurant in Beijing. On Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, McDonald's said it plans to nearly double the number of restaurants ... in China in the next five years, eventually surpassing Japan as the hamburger chain’s second-biggest market outside the United States. The company expects to have 4,500 restaurants in China by 2022, up from 2,500. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) (AP)

McDonald's Corp. is dropping the Minute Maid apple juice box from its Happy Meals and replacing it with a watered-down, organic juice with less sugar made by Honest Kids.

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The change, set for November, is the latest step in the evolution of the Happy Meal toward healthier options and one that shows how shifting consumer tastes have prompted Coca-Cola Co., which owns both Minute Maid and Honest Kids, to broaden its portfolio of beverages to include lower-calorie options.

Parents are increasingly turning away from 100% fruit juice in favor of water and other drinks with less sugar. McDonald's nutritionist Cindy Goody said the latest Happy Meal menu change was driven by feedback from parents who wanted a healthier beverage choice.

Mary Lozano, a 33-year-old mom in Los Angeles, who was dining at a McDonald's this week, said she would like to see a broader selection of healthy items in Happy Meals, such as carrots, mixed-fruit cups or apple sauce. But, she said, "I don't know how much more they can do without going way off their menu."

The 6-ounce Honest Kids Appley Ever After box contains more water than juice -- it is 42% apple juice. It has 10 fewer grams of sugar and half the calories of the 6-ounce Minute Maid box, which is 100% apple juice. Both are made from concentrate. Coca-Cola declined to comment on any financial effect from the switch.

Amid a backlash against the fast-food industry for contributing to America's obesity problem, McDonald's six years ago reduced the size of its french fry servings in Happy Meals by more than half and added sliced apples. Later, the chain stopped promoting soft drinks as an option in children's meals and instead started including juice, low-fat milk and water on its menu boards and in its advertising.

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McDonald's also has added low-fat yogurt and clementines as side options, and last year removed artificial preservatives, colors and flavors from its chicken nuggets.

The popularity of fast-food children's meals with toys had been declining for several years before McDonald's began making the nutrition-related changes. In recent years, those meals have been on the upswing, with a 6% increase to 1.1 billion orders at U.S. fast-food chains in the 12 months ending June, according to NPD Group Inc.

In addition to declining soda consumption, Coca-Cola's Minute Maid has also fallen out of favor. Sales of Minute Maid at grocers and other retailers in the U.S. have dropped 18% since 2012 to $1.1 billion in 2016, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Meanwhile, the Honest Kids brand has been growing. Its products since 2015 have been added to menus at Wendy's, Chick-fil-A and Subway.

Combined, Honest Tea's juice, tea and other drinks are expected to generate $400 million in retail sales this year and, with the boost from McDonald's and other projected growth, could reach $600 million next year, said Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman. He remains at Coca-Cola, which bought the business in 2011.

Howell Wechsler, chief executive of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit that has pushed McDonald's to develop healthier choices for children, called the move "a good step, but we look forward to the day when kids see water as the baseline default choice."

He added that McDonald's could still do more to make Happy Meals more nutritious, for example by offering vegetables and rotating in different fruits to expose children to a variety of healthy items.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company is proud of the changes it has made and that, "We are committed to continuing our food journey for the benefit of our guests."

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com and Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com

McDonald's Corp. is dropping the Minute Maid apple juice box from its Happy Meals and replacing it with a watered-down, organic juice with less sugar made by Honest Kids.

The change, set for November, is the latest step in the evolution of the Happy Meal toward healthier options and one that shows how shifting consumer tastes have prompted Coca-Cola Co., which owns both Minute Maid and Honest Kids, to broaden its portfolio of beverages to include lower-calorie options.

Parents are increasingly turning away from 100% fruit juice in favor of water and other drinks with less sugar. McDonald's nutritionist Cindy Goody said the latest Happy Meal menu change was driven by feedback from parents who wanted a healthier beverage choice.

Mary Lozano, a 33-year-old mom in Los Angeles, who was dining at a McDonald's this week, said she would like to see a broader selection of healthy items in Happy Meals, such as carrots, mixed-fruit cups or apple sauce. But, she said, "I don't know how much more they can do without going way off their menu."

The 6-ounce Honest Kids Appley Ever After box contains more water than juice -- it is 42% apple juice. It has 10 fewer grams of sugar and half the calories of the 6-ounce Minute Maid box, which is 100% apple juice. Both are made from concentrate. Coca-Cola said it was pleased to help McDonald's offer an organic, lower-calorie option, but declined to comment on the financial impact of the change.

Amid a backlash against the fast-food industry for contributing to America's obesity problem, McDonald's six years ago reduced the size of its french fry servings in Happy Meals by more than half and added sliced apples. Later, the chain stopped promoting soft drinks as an option in children's meals and instead started including juice, low-fat milk and water on its menu boards and in its advertising.

McDonald's also has added low-fat yogurt and clementines as side options, and last year removed artificial preservatives, colors and flavors from its chicken nuggets.

The popularity of fast-food children's meals with toys had been declining for several years before McDonald's began making the nutrition-related changes. In recent years, those meals have been on the upswing, with a 6% increase to 1.1 billion orders at U.S. fast-food chains in the 12 months ending June, according to NPD Group Inc.

In addition to declining soda consumption, Coca-Cola's Minute Maid has also fallen out of favor. Sales of Minute Maid at grocers and other retailers in the U.S. have dropped 18% since 2012 to $1.1 billion in 2016, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Meanwhile, the Honest Kids brand has been growing. Its products since 2015 have been added to menus at Wendy's, Chick-fil-A and Subway.

Combined, Honest Tea's juice, tea and other drinks are expected to generate $400 million in retail sales this year and, with the boost from McDonald's and other projected growth, could reach $600 million next year, said Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman. He remains at Coca-Cola, which bought the business in 2011.

Howell Wechsler, chief executive of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit that has pushed McDonald's to develop healthier choices for children, called the move "a good step, but we look forward to the day when kids see water as the baseline default choice."

He added that McDonald's could still do more to make Happy Meals more nutritious, for example by offering vegetables and rotating in different fruits to expose children to a variety of healthy items.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company is proud of the changes it has made and that, "We are committed to continuing our food journey for the benefit of our guests."

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com and Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 15, 2017 14:42 ET (18:42 GMT)