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McDonald's to Downsize Menu

McDonald's Corp., battered by criticism of its fatty foods, said it would eliminate Supersize french fries and soft drinks by the end of the year, part of a swing toward pleasing health-minded customers and simplifying its menu.

McDonald's Supersize option, which includes a 7-ounce carton of fries and 42-ounce fountain soda, has been targeted by critics as contributing to a growing obesity crisis in the United States where more than half the population is considered overweight or obese.

The world's largest fast-food company, which began offering Supersize portions widely in 1994, said on Wednesday it is making the menu changes to "support a balanced lifestyle" approach that is in keeping with other recent moves to promote healthier behavior.

These include a planned national launch of a Happy Meal for adults called Go Active! which comes with advice from a fitness expert. In the past year, it has introduced several health-oriented foods, such as entree-sized salads and healthy alternatives in children's Happy Meals, including milk and fruit.

McDonald's shares rose 56 cents, or 2 percent, to a 52-week high of $28.99.

"I think it's somewhat of a PR move," said Harris Nesbitt Gerard analyst Matthew DiFrisco of the company's decision to eliminate oversized portions. "But by simplifying the menu, you gain efficiencies and cost reductions, the back-of-the-box type stuff."

A new documentary film, called "Super Size Me" illustrates the negative effects of over-consumption of McDonald's food. The film has not yet been released.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said that the menu changes are not related to any impact of the film on public awareness.

"They had no connection whatsoever," said the spokeswoman, Lisa Howard.

The company has been reducing complexity of its menu, part of a broader push to improve operations and service in its more than 13,000 U.S. restaurants.

"You assist in reducing the labor overhead, demands of the kitchen, and also speed of service, which is very important," DiFrisco said.

Analysts said the change reflects McDonald's move away from discounting toward an emphasis on foods with higher-quality ingredients and better profit margins, such as the new salads and the all-white-meat Chicken McNuggets.

In recent months, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's has been attempting to align its brand with an active lifestyle, highlighted by a new global advertising campaign called "I'm Lovin' It." Launched late last year, the ads feature hip-hop music and a range of lifestyle scenarios shot outside of its restaurants.

Its rivals, including Wendy's Corp. and Burger King Corp., have also been progressively offering more foods that give consumers choices beyond the traditional fast-food fare of burgers, fries and sodas.

Those changes come as concern over corporations' responsibility for public health has been growing. Last year, McDonald's was the target of a high-profile lawsuit filed on behalf of teenagers who alleged its food was the cause of their obesity. The suit was twice dismissed from federal court.

A public health advocate gave McDonald's plans conditional support.

"McDonald's made a move in the right direction by stopping sales of supersized french fries and soft drinks," said Michael Jacobson, director of the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest in a statement.

"I hope it is an indication that the company is paying more attention to obesity, heart disease, and other diet-related diseases," he said, adding that he hoped other fast-food companies would quickly follow suit.

The Supersize fries contain 610 calories, 29 grams of fat, 390 milligrams of sodium and 77 grams of carbohydrates, according to analysts.

(Agencies via Xinhua  March 5, 2004) 

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