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Business

McDonald's Goes Slim-Line for Europe

Responding to growing concern about obesity in Europe, the U.S. fast food chain McDonald's prepares to launch a new, healthier menu in 16 European countries, offering customers fewer burgers, and more salads.

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How about a salad instead?

Visit the McDonald's Germany Web site, and one of the images you'll see is a slim young woman reclining with a big bowl of McDonald's salad. It's a far cry from the meal of burger, fries and cola typically associated with the fast food chain. McDonald's is in the midst of an image change, and none too soon, say health experts alarmed at the skyrocketing obesity rates on both sides of the Atlantic. McDonald's has long offered healthier options such as salads in both the U.S. and Europe. And last week, the company announced that it would begin phasing out its "super-sized" fries and soft drinks in the U.S., a process that is already well under way in Europe. But it's the chain's European customers who will be the first to experience the most sweeping overhaul of the McDonald's menu in the company's 50-year history. Bye-bye bacon burger A new, healthier menu that will see some types of burgers banned in favor of chicken salads, yogurts, fruit, and organic milk will be launched in the U.K. and Germany at the end of March, before being introduced across the continent. "This is big news, even in countries where we've already been playing around with salad side dishes," said Denis Hennequin, executive vice-president of McDonald's Europe. "Offering salads as meals in their own right responds to our customers' increasing attention to diet and lifestyle." The new products have been developed at a McDonald's food studio in Paris by French chef Olivier Pichot. And in an attempt to help customers make better food choices, the company is developing a pan-European "smart labelling" system using pictograms. "Pictograms can be understood in any language and will be clear and understandable, not full of technical information," said Hennequin. Consumer pressure, lawsuits Legal experts believe the new nutritional labelling will help McDonald's defend itself against any future litigation. The chain was unsuccessfully sued by two New York teenagers last year, who claimed that their Golden Arches habit had made them obese. Anti-obesity lobby groups in the U.K. have been targeting advertisements by McDonald's and other fast food chains, as well as manufacturers of junk food and sugary drinks, saying they are contributing to a growing crisis of obesity in children. The British government has responded by drawing up a tougher code regulating ads directed at children.

Germany's consumer affairs ministry, which estimates that every third child and every fifth teenager is seriously overweight, has gone on the offensive with a campaign aimed at getting kids to eat healthier and do more exercise. McDonald's Europe says its new, healthier menu is an effort to address such concerns.

But customers hoping to shed some extra pounds by swapping their burger for a salad could be in for a shock. According to a nutrition guide on the McDonald's Web site, some of the salads on the menu contain more fat than a hamburger or cheeseburger.

The company plans to initially spend 20 percent of its marketing budget in Germany and the U.K. to promote the new menu items. Consumers can also expect the new ads to be more serious in tone, in contrast to the ads that have appeared under the company's global "I'm lovin' it" campaign.

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