Fast-food companies eager to retain their increasingly health-conscious customers have been steadily making changes to their menus—just last week, for instance, McDonald’s declared that its McNuggets and other chicken products would no longer contain antibiotics.
Now Burger King is taking a page from the same playbook, announcing today that it will recommend its franchises offer fat-free milk, low-fat chocolate milk, and apple juice as the default beverage options on its children’s menu, instead of soda. (Note that the company can’t compel its franchises to change their menus, only strongly suggest.) McDonald’s and Wendy’s have already made the change.
Burger King last made significant health-oriented tweaks to to its children’s menu in 2007, when it replaced french fries with apple slices, set limits for calories and fat, and pledged to reduce kid-directed advertising. At the time, some health advocates criticized the chain for serving the apple slices in a pseudo fry container, and slicing them to look like their salty predecessors; Dr. James Sargent, co-director Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, evaluated Burger King advertisements featuring Fresh Apple Fries and concluded that they were “misleading to children,” according to Time.
Juice has its own drawbacks: Per Burger King’s website, the Capri Sun 100% apple juice sold alongside its kid-portioned burgers and chicken nuggets has 20 grams of sugar per serving. That’s more sugar more than Mountain Dew, according to data published in the journal Nutrition. Still, some health advocates are praising the move. “Soda and other sugary drinks promote diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, and even heart disease—and have no place on menus meant for little kids,” Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement. “We applaud Burger King for taking this responsible step forward.”
Customers do, too. Burger King has been whopping (sorry) McDonald’s in the fast food market lately, showing steady increases in same-store sales, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek. Some of that recent success has come from repackaging existing menu items and marketing them as novelties—Businessweek cites the Rodeo Burger, a hamburger topped with onion rings and slathered in barbecue sauce, as one example. Today’s announcement falls into a similar category, as the chain shuffles items on the menu board. Despite the savvy choreography, it’s clear that the company still lets you have it “your way”—even if it’s bad for your waistline.