Is McDonald's Finally Getting The Hint?

Considering all the criticism McDonald's has taken in the past for their part in this nation's obesity epidemic from critics like me -- and largely justifiable too -- I have to give them some credit when they do something right.

In one small way to distance themselves from all that abuse, McDonald's has quickly become a major player in the $80 billion domestic produce industry with its new focus on high quality salads for adults and apple snacks for kids as a healthy alternative to French fries and other high-fat foods. The company estimates it will buy some 54 million pounds of fresh apples in 2005 -- 135 million pieces of fruit -- from nothing two years ago. In fact, its Apple Dippers product is the first time the fast-food giant has sold a fruit product that wasn't baked as a pie. (Still, the apple slices are packaged with a caramel sauce that contains 9 grams of sugar and does absolutely nothing good for your health.)

And these alternatives, unlike the Shaker salads -- once sold in small plastic cups -- are selling too. Premium salads accounted for $600 million in U.S. sales in 2004, or 10 percent of the company's domestic revenue last year. Nevertheless, those numbers pale in comparison to the company's top U.S. seller, the double cheeseburger at 1.5 billion!

With nearly 14,000 locations in this country alone, McDonald's ranks among the top five in buyers of spring mix lettuce and grape tomatoes. So much so, other growers of carrots and oranges are attempting to tailor products for that fast-food market.

Although the push for healthier fast food is certainly better, some growers of organic fruits and vegetables believe McDonald's could wield considerable influence in their market. And, not a moment too soon, considering apples are one of the produce groups most contaminated by pesticides.

New York Times February 20, 2005

Sarasota Herald-Tribune February 20, 2005

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