Kale on the McDonald's (MCD) menu? It's not an early April Fool's joke. The world's biggest fast-food chain may seriously be considering offering the leafy green to customers.
The company's kale aspirations were reported in a recent note from analysts at Janney Capital Markets. "Possibilities include kale for use in salads, or perhaps a kale smoothie," the analysts wrote. "More generally, McDonald's clearly aims to raise consumers' perception of the quality of its food. Adding kale to the menu in some way could help be a step in this direction."
McDonald's would not confirm or deny the kale reports, according to trade magazine Nation's Restaurant News.
Even if kale never makes its way to McDonald's counters, the fact that the company is even considering it gives some hint of the emerging strategy under new CEO Steve Easterbrook. The company said last week it would stop using chicken treated with human antibiotics. It will take a couple of years to phase the chicken out completely.
"Our customers want food that they feel great about eating," McDonald's U.S. president Mike Andres said at the time.
Rival Chipotle (CMG) has taken a vocal stand against the use of meat treated with antibiotics. But as beef production plunged in recent years and supplies became limited, the company said it would consider meat from cattle that had only received antibiotics to treat an illness.
Other competitors are also taking steps to appear healthier. Burger King (BKW) said it will remove soda as one of the default beverage options on its children's menu, and will instead recommend milk and apple juice. Wendy's (WEN) recently released a video showing the journey of a head of romaine lettuce from the farm to one of its restaurants.
McDonald's new approach is a departure from its past attitude toward better eating. In January, the company released a commercial called "Unapologetic Big Mac" in which it joyfully bashed all things healthy. "You can't get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa. This is not Greek yogurt," a narrator said as images of a Big Mac were displayed. "Nor will that ever be kale," he added as the camera zoomed in on the Big Mac's shredded lettuce.
Some people took this as a promise that McDonald's would never serve kale. But never say never with a company that's in the middle of the worst financial period in its history. Continuing a string of poor results, the company said this week that its global sales fell in February, including a 4 percent drop in the U.S.
McDonald's is going to throw everything it can on the wall and see what sticks -- even if it leaves some bright green stains.