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updated 3/9/2004 2:26:05 PM ET 2004-03-09T19:26:05

In the most sweeping overhaul of the McDonald's international menu in the fast-food chain's 50-year history, restaurants across 16 European countries will soon slash their line-up of burgers to make way for chicken salads, yogurts and chopped fruit.

"This is big news, even in countries where we've already been playing around with salad side dishes," Denis Hennequin, executive vice-president of McDonald's Europe, said on Monday. "Offering salads as meals in their own right responds to our customers' increasing attention to diet and lifestyle."

The world's largest fast-food chain has already successfully introduced a premium salads range in the U.S. Mr. Hennequin said it was also working with nutritionists in Brussels on a pictogram-based "smart labeling" system which should be ready by the end of the year.

The chain was unsuccessfully sued by two New York teenagers last year, who claimed it had caused their obesity.

Legal experts believe the new pan-European system of nutritional labeling will be an important element in McDonald's defense against future litigation. "Pictograms can be understood in any language and will be clear and understandable, not full of technical information," Mr. Hennequin said. The moves follow the group's decision last week to phase out "super-sized" fries and drinks in the U.S. after they were demonized by anti-obesity campaigners see king stricter regulatory control of the food industry.

The products have been developed at McDonald's new Food Studio in Paris by French chef Olivier Pichot, and will be launched in the U.K. and Germany at the end of March, before being rolled out across the Continent.

McDonald's confirmed last week that it would be phasing out its largest 7-ounce French fries carton by the end of the year, and stop serving its giant 42-ounce drinks carton as an everyday  item. The U.K. is also phasing out its super-size products. Mr. Hennequin, who was appointed to his pan-European role just two months ago, is moving rapidly to export many of the practices he introduced to McDonald's in France. Under his management since 1995, France was the main motor for the group's growth in Europe.

To make room for the eight healthier products — which include a grilled-chicken ranch salad and a grilled-chicken caprese sandwich made with mozzarella, rocket and cherry tomatoes — McDonald's will cease selling a McBacon burger and a cheeseburger.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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