Talk about spin: Taco Bell is patting itself on the back for being the first fast-food chain to stop serving kids’ meals with toys. “Pioneering this change on our menu is a bold move for our industry,” the Bell’s CEO, Greg Creed, says in a press release.
Oh, and by the way: Taco Bell’s kids’ meals weren’t selling anyway.
Public-health advocates have long complained that fast-food restaurants entice kids to eat unhealthily by luring them in with the promise of bright, shiny (and oh-so-breakable) toys, the kind that scream gotta have it (to play with it for five minutes, before it disappears under the couch back home).
But while the home of the Doritos Locos Taco is trying to claim credit for being at the vanguard of confronting the childhood obesity epidemic, the real news for many people is that Taco Bell ever sold kids’ meals in the first place. (Did they feature that crazy annoying Chihuahua from a few years back?)
In an interview with the Associated Press, CEO Creed fesses up to the fact that kids’ meals at Taco Bell accounted for less than half a percent of sales. The chain hasn’t even bothered advertising them for more than a decade.
“We’re trying to be this Millennial edgy brand, and having a kid’s meal was inconsistent,” Creed tells the AP. So really, when you think about it, the chain that seeks to satisfy 2 a.m. cravings with Volcano Tacos and its Crunchwrap Supreme is still in the kid’s meal biz—we’re just talking about really overgrown kids here.
Truth is, the Happy Meal trade hasn’t been so happy for quite a while now. Sales of kids’ meals have been in steady decline since 2006, a slide that’s been attributed to a number of factors. Industry analysts say kids’ tastes are changing, and they want grown-up food. But pressure from public-health advocates has also made Happy Meals and their kin something of a battleground, with groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest waging high-profile campaigns against the standard cheeseburger-fries-and-soda combo that comprise most kids’ meals.
Earlier this year, CSPI surveyed 3,500 kids’ meal combos at more that 30 of the nation’s top restaurant chains and found that 97 percent failed to meet nutritional standards for healthy kids’ meals set by a panel of experts. Even worse, 91 percent failed to meet similar nutrition standards set by the restaurant industry itself.
“One out of every three American children is overweight or obese, but it’s as if the chain restaurant industry didn’t get the memo,” CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan said in a press release at the time. “Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries and soda.”
But now, at least, not cheesy tacos.