McDonald’s announcement it would remove chocolate milk and cheeseburgers from its popular Happy Meal menu drew concern and social media traffic from dairy farmers who have helped finance a long-standing partnership between the restaurant chain and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) through their checkoff dollars. According to DMI Chief Executive Officer Tom Gallagher, the 9-year-old DMI/McDonald’s partnership remains strong, and DMI is working with McDonald’s to get reformulated chocolate milk back as a menu feature.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Menu changes target calories, sodium, fat and added sugar

In a Feb. 15 announcement, McDonald’s said its “Global Happy Meal Goals” include having at least 50 percent of its Happy Meal menu meet a 600-calorie/650-milligram sodium threshold by 2022, with no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat or added sugar. Currently, about 28 percent of Happy Meal combinations offered on menu boards in 20 major markets meet these new nutrition criteria, the company said.

The program is accelerated in the U.S., where 100 percent of the Happy Meal menu will meet the 600-calorie, saturated fat and sugar targets by June 2018. As a result, cheeseburgers and chocolate milk are being removed as regular Happy Meal menu items, but will be available at a customer’s request.

While the new standards eliminate references to chocolate milk and cheeseburgers on the Happy Meal menu board and advertising, McDonald’s remains a strong user of dairy products, with 80 percent of the company’s U.S. menu containing dairy, Gallagher said.

“This is not about an elimination of dairy,” Gallagher said. “Dairy continues to enjoy a significant place on the McDonald’s menu.”


“McDonald’s USA has made a concerted effort to spotlight low-fat dairy in our Happy Meals, and since 2012, we have served more than 2.8 billion sides of fruit and low-fat dairy in kids’ meals,” said Becca Hary, with McDonald’s Corp. “It’s important to note that the cheeseburger and chocolate milk are available at a customer’s request but are not listed on our Happy Meal menu boards. From our recent launch of new McCafé beverages and our transition from margarine to butter across our entire menu, we remain committed to dairy farmers and look forward working with DMI to elevate dairy across our menu.”

Under the new McDonald’s standards, white milk will remain a featured beverage choice on the Happy Meal menu board and in advertising. In addition, checkoff-funded dairy scientists and McDonald’s staff are working to reformulate chocolate milk to meet Happy Meal menu guidelines. Chocolate milk could return to the national Happy Meal menu board once the reformulation is complete.

A winning partnership

“Our partnership with McDonald’s has delivered many significant wins for dairy farmers over the past nine years and there will be more to come as we find new ways to innovate and enhance the McDonald’s customer experience with dairy,” Gallagher said. Among those “wins”:

• DMI assisted McDonald’s with the change from serving milk in cardboard containers to the kid-friendly “Milk Jug.”

• McDonald’s launched its McCafé specialty drinks line, with dairy a major ingredient, in 2009. Following company and franchise equipment investments, the McCafé beverage program was relaunched in 2017.

• In 2015, McDonald’s switched from margarine to butter. As a result, about 40 million pounds of butter (an incremental 700 million pounds of milk) are used by the restaurant the chain each year.

Read: Partners in promotion: How DMI works within McDonald’s

McDonald’s and Disney partnership renewed

McDonald’s menu change preceded renewal of another partnership – between McDonald’s USA and the Walt Disney Company. On Feb. 27, the two companies announced a multiyear alliance featuring cross-promotional campaigns between Happy Meals and select movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Live Action, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm.

In the press release, the companies cited McDonald’s commitment to improve the nutritional standards of its Happy Meal menu by reducing calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.

McDonald’s June 2018 menu change target date coincides with with the release of Incredibles 2, which arrives in theaters on June 15, followed in the fall by Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, which debuts in theaters on Nov. 21.

McDonald’s and Disney previously had a cross-promotional partnership from 1996 to 2006. According to published reports, that partnership split in 2006 when Disney established nutrition guidelines for food companies it associated with, citing childhood obesity rates. In 2012, Disney expanded nutritional standards to include food advertising on programming targeted to kids and families.

Pizza Hut partnership leads to 25 percent more cheese on pan pizzas

Separately, DMI announced that Pizza Hut – another dairy checkoff partner – has increased the amount of cheese on its pan pizzas by 25 percent, a move that will require an additional 150 million pounds of milk annually. The new formulations are now available at more than 6,000 restaurants nationwide.

Dairy scientist Nitin Joshi, a DMI employee who works on-site at Pizza Hut’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, said the project began in 2016, but needed to clear several hurdles before it became a reality. DMI first shared research and insights to help convince Pizza Hut that consumers want more cheese on pizza. This led to a discussion of how much cheese to add to the chain’s existing pan pizza recipe to make a noticeable difference with consumers.

Then, there was the challenge of assuring the pizza would be cooked consistently. Joshi said there are several different types of ovens used by Pizza Hut restaurants nationwide, so it was critical to create a pizza that would have uniform melt, stretch and color qualities. The Pizza Hut team prepared about 8,500 pizzas before settling on a finished product, then conducted training sessions with franchise operators across the country.

“This is another great example of the power of a partner working with our checkoff team to give consumers a product they truly desire,” said Marilyn Hershey, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI chair. “It’s also a win for farmers as we continue to explore new and innovative avenues for our milk production through our partnerships.”  end mark

Dave Natzke