McDonald’s Shies Away from Salads

CEO says there are other ways to sell fruits and vegetables.

McDonald's salad sales

Healthier menu items aren't selling well at the Golden Arches. (Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Is this the end of salad days at McDonald’s—both literally and, well, figuratively?

At an investor conference in New York, Mickey D’s CEO Don Thompson gave the chain’s far-from-signature salads something of a public rebuke, saying, “I don’t see salads as being a major growth driver in the near future,” and suggesting that, according to Bloomberg News, “there are other ways to sell more fruits and vegetables.”

“For example, some of the chain’s new McWraps have tomato and cucumber slices, as well as shredded lettuce,” Bloomberg notes.

(At least no one is trying to claim the Big Mac’s lettuce and pickles constitute a salad on a bun.)

All this might not be particularly interesting, were we not talking about McDonald’s here, especially after several disappointing months of growth and sales that have spawned a very public identity crisis. Think Al Gore circa 2000. On the one hand, as any red-blooded, artery-clogged American knows, McDonald’s is first and foremost about hamburgers (and fries). Yet critics argue the burger giant has suffered in trying to be all things to all Americans.

Its menu now features more than 140 items—shocking, yes, since the menu boards themselves hardly seem to have expanded. But that’s a 70 percent increase in the last six years. Beyond your burgers, you’ve now got your McWraps, your smoothies, your McCafe coffee concoctions, and even an egg-white McMuffin.

“It’s gotten to the point where the operation has kind of broken down and that’s all a symptom of the complication of the menu,” one industry consultant and a former McDonald’s franchisee tells Bloomberg. “They can’t make the food fast enough.”

In recent months, McDonald’s has dropped its Chicken Selects, its Fruit & Walnut Salad, and its entire line of premium Angus burgers (only to replace them with three tricked-out Quarter Pounders).

Thompson hardly seems to be suggesting that the chain will be nixing all its salads any time soon, but his oracular pronouncement is sure to be parsed by those who criticize McDonald’s for continuing to push fatty, high-calorie fare to a nation that can no longer button its bluejeans

Some have argued that McDonald’s should simply get back to what it’s known for: burgers. And there’s some logic to that. It’s funny to think that in some of the very liberal, food-conscious enclaves where McDonald’s is derided, a chain like In-N-Out (mostly in Southern California) or a joint like Shake Shack (think NYC) can not only thrive, but inspire rabid devotion.

An In-N-Out Double-Double with onions clocks in at 670 calories; a Big Mac is 550. Yet no one seems to be campaigning for In-N-Out to start serving wild-berry smoothies or garden-fresh salads.

But would McDonald’s execs (not to mention its investors) be content to let the chain to go back to being just another burger joint? It’s laughable, if not almost impossible to imagine—and therein lies what may be the crux of our McDonald’s problem.

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