Big Fast-Food Chains Fight ‘Happy Meal’ Laws

Central to fast-food restaurants’ marketing to children are providing little plastic toys with happy meals. If you remember childhood, you probably were able to coax your parents to take you to a McDonalds or Burger King to get a little wind-up car or plastic figurine. Fast-food restaurants entice children with every little tool at their disposal from coloring placemats, to games to prizes to toys.

Now cities are writing laws to forbid marketing to children in this way.. To fight the explosion of childhood obesity, cities (San Francisco being first) are aiming at stopping these marketing strategies, leaving traditional fast-food restaurants restaurants vulnerable to the newer fast casual restaurants such as Chipotle or Quiznos (to name the most successful ones).

Laws threaten the bread and butter of large fast-food chains. And even though 10 percent of McDonald’ s US revenue comes from Happy Meals, this doesn’t include the families dragged along by children, and the warm fuzzy feelings children carry into adulthood about fast food restaurants.

But some restaurant lobbies (which normally protect the interests of fast-food chains) have been successful in thwarting these laws with state laws that prevent localities from regulating these incentives for children. In Arizona, restaurant lobbies have already been successful. But I think it is safe to say that in more liberal states it will not be enough to stop this trend, and this will end what has been the heart of fast-food’s marketing to children. Indeed even with these laws, children will forever want to eat out but quality (and for parents food healthiness)  may play a larger role in the equation as parents gain more power, and fast casual restaurants grab more market share. Still, it is not clear if children broadening their restaurant demands will result in less obesity.