McDonald’s has been in the business of making both kids and adults happy for almost forty years. Recently, they launched an adult version of their iconic kid’s Happy Meal, and over half of the available meals were sold in only four days. However, the company wasn’t always this successful at first.
Bob Bernstein, the creator of the Happy Meal, admitted that Happy Meals weren’t initially embraced by the public. Do you know the history of the Happy Meal and why it was almost one of the company’s biggest flops? Here’s why.
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Unfortunately, the love of Happy Meals didn’t soon catch on for a couple of different reasons. The store design of McDonald’s was changed to bricks from white and red tiles, and this concept didn’t sit well with the kids. Burger King was also winning families over thanks to their King character and them giving gifts to children. The Happy Meal just couldn’t compete with all of this.
A Cereal Box Changed It All
Bernstein knew that he needed to do something creative to get families back to McDonald’s and to make Happy Meals more appealing. Each morning, he would watch his son eat a bowl of cereal and look over the entire cereal box. He realized that his son would be so into his morning cereal because there was a lot to look at on the box that kept kids entertained.
This led to him creating a Happy Meal box that had a variety of different things that kept kids engaged while they were eating. This included games, riddles and puzzles for them to solve. Bernstein recruited illustrators from a variety of different cities throughout the United States to design the boxes so that they would stand out amongst their competitors.
1979 Was Their Year
The original Happy Meals came with cookies, french fries, a hamburger, soda and a toy. However, it was only available in a few select cities, like Phoenix, Denver and Kansas City. The company showed a great deal of reluctance about offering Happy Meals in different cities. It took over a year of them testing them amongst families before they felt confident enough to offer it throughout the country in 1979.
From Promotional To Permanence
Originally, Happy Meals were just a promotional item. There was no guarantee that they would stay on the menu permanently. At just $1.10 per meal, a lot of parents thought they were a great value and offered them a quick solution to feed their kids without them having to do a lot of work. McDonald’s often tried to bring even more hype around these meals by tying them into movie debuts.
A lot of franchise owners still were not thrilled about offering Happy Meals because they thought it would cause an unnecessary disruption to daily operations. They didn’t want to deal with having to find a place to keep all of the toys that went into the boxes, and a lot of employees had a difficult time assembling each box quickly. Fortunately for McDonald’s, these issues were worked out, and Happy Meals became a permanent item on the menu in the 1980s.
Toys Were A Hot Commodity
In 1984, chicken nuggets were added as a Happy Meal option that took sales to new heights. However, the thing that really started getting a lot of attention was the toy that came in each box. It wasn’t uncommon for consumers to go from store to store in order to try to find a specific toy that was being offered in a Happy Meal that week.
Despite the fact that the design of the boxes became the thing that drew families in initially, it soon became all of the unique toys that had both parents and investors buying up Happy Meals in astonishing quantities. McDonald’s soon became one of the country’s biggest toy distributors. Today, it isn’t uncommon for certain Happy Meal toys to sell on eBay for thousands of dollars. Popular toys have included Hot Wheels cars, Beanie Babies and Power Rangers.
Nutritional Values Changed Things
As the country started to become concerned about childhood obesity at the turn of the century, McDonald’s had to change some things. A lot of people put pressure on McDonald’s to get rid of toys and make the meal a little healthier. In response to the critics, McDonald’s reduced the portion sizes of their french fries, offered their own low fat version of chocolate milk, cookies were removed and apple slices were offered instead. Because of all of these changes, the calorie count is down about 20% from where it was when the meal was first introduced.
While the Happy Meal has seen a lot of changes throughout the years, it is still widely popular among kids and parents that are looking for a quick way to feed their child. Thanks to all of the nutritional changes, a lot of parents feel better about giving their child something from a fast food restaurant when they are strapped for time. With the Happy Meal consistently changing over the last four decades, it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw a few more tweaks and improvements in the future.