Message To McDonald’s: It’s The Fries That Put The Happy In Happy Meals

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McDonald’s is announcing today that it will begin to serve fruit or vegetables with every Happy meal sold in the U.S. That seems like a reasonable reaction to a market that is demanding more healthy options from fast food outlets. But they also considered dropping the fries from the Happy Meal. And this is what concerns me. Do they not have any idea that the entire Happy Meal experience is built around the fries? The fries are basically what make the meal happy.

My kids eat very well every day. They have well-balanced breakfasts, lunches and dinners. My husband and I don’t eat too many carbs but we let them eat some. But if we are in a situation where we need some sustenance for the kids fast, we will happily get them a Happy Meal. I mean, they’ve probably had a combined total of 10 of these in their lives, but hint to McDonalds: we get them because of the fries. In fact, I’m not entirely sure they’ve eaten a single other thing in their happy meal, not counting the paper that surrounds the straws.

So I wonder if McDonald’s isn’t getting rid of its competitive advantage by also downsizing it’s fry portion. The new size is just 46% of the old size. Which is fine, I guess, but considering that my kids don’t eat much other than the fries and that’s our whole reason to go that option when on the road. I’m worried that they don’t get it:

McDonald’s said it first experimented with using fruit — typically an apple — or a vegetable as a replacement for fries in Happy Meals. But both children and parents rebelled, so the fries will stay.

“People come to McDonald’s and, first of all, they want the choice and the control to be theirs, but their expectation of a Happy Meal does include a fry,” said Jan Fields, president of McDonald’s USA. “When we did it without fries, there was a huge disappointment factor.”

Um, yeah. Of course, who can blame them since they are being blamed by authoritarian nanny-staters for parents’ inability to feed their children in a healthy manner:

As the world’s largest restaurant chain by sales, McDonald’s has been under intense scrutiny for the nutritional quality of its food and its marketing to children. Critics have challenged the chain’s practice of selling kids meals that include a toy, linking it to the nation’s obesity crisis. Last year, San Francisco banned toys from fast-food meals that do not meet certain nutritional criteria.

“We know we’re a leader and we know we need to be part of the solution,” said McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud. “But we can’t be looked at as providing the only solution.”

Seriously. Happy Meals are happy when they’re not a nightly meal or even a fortnightly meal. Make them special and it works better for everyone.

How will others respond to this? The article gives a couple of perspectives:

“This seems like good leadership in the industry and one that should help the brand maintain its leading position with young families,” said David Palmer, an analyst with UBS. He added that family check averages are higher than others. “If you convince that family that you’re the responsible choice to be a big check,” he said, they may visit more often.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant industry consultancy, said that while McDonald’s is trying to strike a balance between nutrition and cravings, “consumers are going to chose what they want.” And that usually means something fried. …

“I think you’re going to get a good reaction from kids who like apples,” Tristano said of the new meal. “But ultimately I think we’re going to see a good bit of apples wasted from kids who just refuse to eat them.”

I hadn’t even thought of that. Of course, what kind of kid doesn’t like apples?