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New York apple industry bullish on new Happy Meal policy

by Christina DiMartino | August 12, 2011

In July, McDonald’s announced plans to change its traditional Happy Meal through a new initiative called “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices.”

New York apple growers have provided apples to McDonald’s since it first started including them in Happy Meals in 2004, and are now bracing for increased demand from the fast-food giant.

Beginning in September, all Happy Meals will include apple slices. Each meal will include a small pack —approximately a quarter-cup — of apple slices. If parents or caregivers want only French fries, or if they want only apple slices, they will have to specify their option.

“This is big news for the apple industry,” Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association Inc. in Fishers, NY, told The Produce News. “If we can get McDonald’s to serve as many apples as they do hamburgers, we’ll be all set.”

Mr. Allen continued, “Kudos to McDonald’s for looking at, addressing and reacting to the issue of health, nutrition and obesity in our country. And what better way to increase the nutritional value of their meals than with fresh apples?”

The U.S. apple industry has seen a spike in apple consumption since McDonald’s began offering them, said Mr. Allen, but including them in every Happy Meal is a major punch for the apple industry.

“As hard as it may be for many people to believe, there are millions of people in this country who have never had the pleasure of eating a fresh apple,” he said. “They may be in inner cities or in remote areas where there is just not access to fresh apples. And children don’t always have the opportunity to choose what they’re served.”

Mr. Allen said that the move by McDonald’s will definitely help to drive apple consumption in children, and he expects that many will begin to ask their parents for more.

Some industry estimates claim that McDonald’s sold about 220 million Happy Meals in the United States in 2010. Of those, approximately 24 million were likely sold with apple slices, based on the company’s statement that only 10 percent of Happy Meal sales saw customers requesting apples when it was optional.

McDonald’s has been sourcing apples from New York orchards since 2004, when it first introduced apple slices to its menu. Traditional New York-grown apple varieties like Empire and Gala have been ideal for slicing because of their high acidity, flavor and resistance to browning.

Mr. Allen said that growers are bracing for a rush of demand from McDonald’s this fall.

“Even without the new business from McDonald’s, consumer demand for our apples has been at record highs, so this will likely motivate growers to add even more trees and expand,” he said.