McDonald's (MCD) - Get Report apparently is so desperate to cook up some sales that it's willing to introduce high-calorie artificial-ingredient-filled breakfasts to kids just as it's spending big bucks to improve ingredient quality elsewhere on its menu and market the changes to skeptical consumers.
Mixed messages here, no?
According to USA Today, on Monday the Golden Arches will start testing breakfast Happy Meals at 73 locations in Tulsa, Okla. Customers will have a choice between two McGriddles (basically two pieces of thick bread bathed in sugary syrup) and a new Egg & Cheese McMuffin that is sans Canadian bacon. On the plus side, kids can pick from two healthy sides: apple slices or yogurt. Fried hash browns will reportedly be an option at select restaurants.
The introduction of breakfast Happy Meals reeks of a fast food company that is desperate to jump-start sluggish sales. Same-store sales at McDonald's U.S., its largest market, rose 1.8% from the prior year during the second quarter, badly missing Wall Street forecasts for a 3.2% increase. Of particular concern, same-store sales growth cooled drastically from a 5.4% increase in the first quarter.
If igniting sales at any cost wasn't the top priority, then Mickey D's would have probably unveiled healthier options for kids' breakfast that jibe with several well-received major changes undertaken this year to enhance ingredient quality.
In early August, McDonald's removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets. The company also sliced out artificial preservatives from its pork sausage patties and omelet-style eggs. In addition, it took out controversial high-fructose corn syrup from its hamburger buns, and completed the move to antibiotic-free chicken. In late August, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine and trumpeted the company's shift toward cage-free eggs.
Offering kids a complete range of healthier options isn't some zany idea that can't be done. This month, Panera Bread's (PNRA) entire kids menu -- consisting of items such as a peanut and jelly sandwich, chicken noodle soup and mac and cheese -- became "clean," the food-industry term for food free of artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or colors.
"We are once again challenging this industry to do what they should do, which is to have a different approach to kids meals -- these marketing gimmicks [such as toys, marketing characters] are just the wrong thing to do, as are the sugary beverages that are coupled with these meals," Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich told TheStreet in an interview.
It's unclear what toys that will accompany McDonald's new breakfast Happy Meals. Let's hope kids are rewarded with a cool Pokemon toy for carbo-loading for the strenuous school day ahead.