OAK BROOK, Ill. -- McDonald's decision to discontinue three of its low-fat menu items has raised a few eyebrows among trend spotters.
While the McLean Deluxe hamburger, the chef salad and side salad will no longer be available, spokeswoman Malesia Webb-Dunn told SN that "We still have and will continue to have items available on the menu for customers who are looking for lighter fare."
Some of these items include the McGrill chicken sandwich, the fajita chicken salad and a garden salad, she said.
"And if you just have to have a hamburger, you can get a regular hamburger with 10 grams of fat or a cheeseburger with 14," she said. Although Webb-Dunn confirmed that McDonald's made the decision as part of an overall, sales-based menu streamlining, industry observers questioned whether this move heralds a shift in consumer attitudes regarding low-fat choices.
The answer, according to food consultant Jay Heilbrunn of Clinton Associates in Deerfield, Ill., is both yes and no.
"Basically, consumers are very interested in healthy food as long as it tastes good," Heilbrunn told SN. "I think everybody gets kind of hung up in the trend of trying to do things healthy. A majority of people will accept [healthy products], but taste comes first. "Taco Bell did a study where they looked at what were the most important things in terms of food choice as people get older. Cost got more important, and health did too, but all of that really paled in comparison with the importance of taste -- and I think that's what McDonald's ran into." He added that the chain introduced the McLean burger to try to address critics in the marketplace who claimed McDonald's did not have enough low-fat or "healthy" choices on the menu.
"But it didn't taste good and customers told them so," said Heilbrunn. "They probably did a very in-depth analysis of the product mix and saw that it just wasn't moving, and it was just like retailers do -- if the product doesn't move, they take it off the shelf."
Heilbrunn noted that the chain is doing a lot of experimenting with its menu at the moment, including introducing some regional specialties.
"There's the McJordan burger that they have in the Chicago area, that's a bacon burger variation with various things that Michael Jordan likes on it. "I think they're getting back to their roots, which is hamburgers," he added.
McDonald's official explanation supports Heilbrunn's analysis to a certain extent. "We were looking at the most popular items, and the McLean and those two salads were not as popular as other choices on the menu," said Webb-Dunn.
Timetables for removal of the items from the menu will vary according to when each restaurant reaches the end of its current product supply, she added.