McDonald’s reported lower worldwide same-stores sales in April for the fourteenth straight month. The US business however, bolstered by sales of recently debuted salads, registered an improvement for the first time in a year. As part of a generally more health conscious image, the new salads could help fatten McDonald’s profits once more.

Boosted by the weak dollar, McDonald’s total sales rose by 8% for April. Same-store sales however, often considered the best indicator of a retailer’s health, fell by 0.8%, the fourteenth consecutive month of comparable sales losses.

US comparable sales brought some relief though with a 1.3% increase – registering growth for the first time since February 2002. The favourable US performance is attributed to the success of the salad menu introduced in March.

The fastfood industry has been under pressure to offer healthier items for a while now. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the US and much of the impetus for such demands comes from rising concerns over childhood obesity.

Approximately 300,000 deaths a year are associated with being overweight or obese. It is estimated that 61% of American adults are overweight or obese, while the percentage of overweight adolescents has almost tripled from 5% to 14% over the last two decades.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that 21% of respondents blamed the proliferation of fastfood for weight problems in children. Recent suits against McDonald’s and Kraft have induced major food companies to take these concerns seriously and make some changes.

McDonald’s latest offering not only caters to the health conscious consumer, it also taps into broader consumer needs of convenience and a desire for differing food experiences.

In Southern California, McDonald’s restaurants are introducing “Salad & More”, a low fat menu that includes a vegetarian burger. Many of the items have previously been available but are now being packaged under “Salad & More” to show customers that the world’s largest restaurant chain has lower fat, lower calorie food.

As the aging population shies away from fastfood and looks for healthier and more mature offerings, the new salads could become the ticket to survival in a competitive environment.

(c) 2003 Datamonitor. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Datamonitor shall not be liable for errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.