Last month I learned McDonald’s salads account for 3% of total sales. This fact was reported at a community meeting, positioned as damning evidence that McDonald’s efforts to offer a wide variety of food choices, including more fruit and vegetables, falls short. I am often asked how well the salads at McDonald’s are selling, and the data disappoints me.
At the same time I know Americans notoriously skimp on fruit and vegetables in their diet. The Center for Disease Control reported in 2009 that less than 1/3 of adults in the U.S. eat two servings of fruit a day. Barely 1/4 of adults eat vegetables three or more servings a day.*
Today McDonald’s Premium salads with 14 different types of lettuce are selling like…errr, salads. McDonald’s customers buy them, but not that many, and no one is anticipating that they will buy more anytime soon. I started to wonder, “How do salad sales at McDonald’s compare to sales of vegetables used for salads at the supermarket?”
BUYING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
USDA data tells us that Americans spent 7.7% of their food dollars on all vegetables in 1999, and 7.6% of their dollars on fruit. Fresh vegetables contributes about half of sales. That includes all those baby carrots, and every fresh vegetable cooked at home.
I then looked at sales of typical salad vegetables, including lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, cabbage and bell pepper. They accounted for 43% of all produce sold, but that number is very misleading. Most tomatoes end up in some sort of sauce, salsa or ketchup. Only about 30% of tomatoes are purchased fresh.
So, taking stock of what we know, let’s try to do the math.
- Fresh vegetables account of half of all vegetable sales
- Salad vegetables make up less than half of all vegetables sales
- Tomatoes make up 40% of all salad vegetable sales and only 30% of tomatoes are eaten fresh
The data is not clean, but I’m going to venture a guess that common salad vegetables make up significantly less than 25% of all vegetable sales. So do the math. Vegetables that could be used to make fresh salads contribute less than 2% of retail grocery store sales. Kind of makes me wonder why we expect consumers to be buying more salad vegetables at McDonald’s than they do for themselves at home.
WHAT ARE AMERICANS BUYING AT THE SUPERMARKET MARKET?
What Americans buy in the supermarket continues to evolve. In a 2012 NPR report, Lam Thuy Vo used Bureau of Labor statistics to develop the graph at the right. Today the largest chunk of the American food dollar is spent on processed food and sweets, not including what we drink. Beverages–including sugar laden sodas, teas, sports drinks,energy drinks, fruit drinks and flavored waters– are listed in a separate category. Together these highly processed and subsidized products account for 34% of the average grocery bill. One third of every food dollar.
In 2006 a Pew Research survey identified convenience and taste as the top reasons adults eat too much junk food. Cost of food was a distance fourth. Today the economic fate of most Americans has shifted significantly. The US Farm Bill continues to subsidize corn, wheat, soybeans and sugar beets–the kind of crops that are used to produce highly processed foods, sweets and beverages. These are not the fruits and vegetables that end up in the produce section of the supermarket.
At the same shareholder meeting last May, McDonald’s CEO offered that the dollar menu contributes 13% of sales. How much is the cost of food determining what Americans buy today?
* a serving of fruit is about 1 cup; a serving of cooked vegetable is about 1/2 cup