Kale’s rise on the menu in Canada initially took root in the full-service restaurant arena. But the dark leafy green’s popularity is now growing across segments, with McDonald’s in Canada rumored to be introducing kale in three salads. We’ve written recently about kale’s popularity on Canadian restaurant menus, but McDonald’s move is bigger than kale.
In the face of slumping sales worldwide, McDonald’s is trying to respond to consumer needs and preferences, while innovating menu items without affecting speed of service. Health is often central to its menu innovation. For McDonald’s, adding a trendy ingredient like kale to its menu captures consumer attention and highlights health in a contemporary way.
Back in 2013, we singled out vegetables and vegetarian options as a foodservice trend to watch in Canada. The most-recent Canadian Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report shows these ingredients and main-dish options filtering onto mainstream menus at restaurant chains, beyond the chef-driven independent players. As more consumers take a different approach to healthy eating—enjoying meat on some occasions, avoiding it for others—operators will emphasize dishes with vegetables as a healthy choice. Consumers identify a variety of foods as “healthy” but reserve the “very healthy” designation for fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables such as kale.
One noteworthy consumer finding from the report is that although Canadians say they want healthful menu options, they don’t always order them. In fact, 48% of consumers considered ordering healthy options, but only 42% actually purchased them. However, the availability of healthy options on menus can drive traffic, especially among women and older consumers; 34% of consumers said they were more likely to visit a restaurant that offers some healthy options, even if they don’t end up ordering a healthy choice. For Matures, that figure rose to 45%, and 41% of women also gave this response.
It will be interesting to see if McDonald’s test of kale is here to stay or if the test doesn’t translate into a permanent menu item. McDonald’s has menued salads for years, but adding an on-trend, nutrient-rich vegetable like kale could give those menu options a boost in balancing indulgent menu items like the Double Big Mac, while helping to eliminate the veto vote by providing something for everyone.