How important are Happy Meals for business?
This seems to be the heart of the debate over Happy Meals: How important is it to the bottom line? Those in favor of taking the toy out of the junk food and allowing them only for healthy meals say it's because the toys work. If you put them in a healthier option, maybe kids will choose apples over french fries. Those against the idea say it's an un-American shackle on free enterprise and on parents who like to give their kids a treat.
Advertise Age weighs in on the issue here analyzing how good those plastic toys have been for business.
The company is rather guarded about specifics, but a spokeswoman offered that Happy Meal sales account for less than 10% of McDonald's U.S. business. Given McDonald's massive size -- it notched about $30.9 billion in U.S. systemwide sales in 2009, according to Ad Age's DataCenter -- that's nothing to sneeze at. "If Happy Meals account for less than 10% of McDonald's total sales ... [that still] represents a significant portion of their business," said Darren Tristano, exec VP at Technomic. "To put it in perspective, that would be more than Panera Bread, IHOP or Dairy Queen chains sold individually in the U.S. in 2009."
The Happy Meal, first introduced in 1979, has been an astonishing success story, and helped propel McDonald's as the overwhelming choice of kids as their favorite fast food restaurant.
I wonder if there's a middle ground in this debate.
It does seem like a bad idea to lure kids to the unhealthiest offerings with shiny trinkets, but even the strictest of food police don't like the idea of the law weighing in on the issue.
Maybe it will take moral pressure. That does seem to making a difference as more large chains expand their menus to include healthier offerings. One analyst quoted in the story even says that the company has been less reliant on the Happy Meal than in years past, because the menu is so much broader than it used to be.
--Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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