The nanny-state central planners are working overtime again, and at a time when many families are struggling to put meals on the table, let alone holiday gifts under the tree, San Francisco city government has just passed a new ordinance that bans the inclusion of free toys in fast food kids meals that do not meet their tough anti-obesity standards. McDonald’s is the first to respond and they are doing a “workaround” — the previously free toys can now be purchased for 10 cents apiece. Other fast food chains will have to plan their own compliance measures.
Is childhood obesity good? Of course not. Should government at all levels be policing what each of us eats? Of course not. We would collectively be better off as individuals, and as a nation, if we weighed less, got more exercise, and were healthier overall. But we all need to eat to live, and the last time I checked, most of us also make a point of eating what we like and tastes good to us. Some of that carries more calories and fats than things that taste less good to us. McDonald’s would not be the global giant it is today if it were in the business of selling sprouts in Brussels and bean varieties.
There is something at best tone-deaf, and at worst mean-spirited, about punishing children to force fast food restaurants to take away toys that have been marketplace favorites for decades, all in the interest of better nutrition. Right goal, arguably, but definitely wrong strategy. Those crying the most may be Hollywood executives because McDonald’s has long had a marketing relationship in which Happy Meal toys have been used as promotional vehicles for kid-friendly and family films. Toy collectors are not going to be too pleased with this development (and multi-city trend) either.
Meanwhile, it is just smart business practice for McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants to market test menu items that offer healthier eating alternatives so that kids and parents have a choice in what they have to order. Fruit salads are never going to replace Big Macs in terms of overall sales, but that doesn’t mean people won’t order them when they are in the mood for that fare. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is always experimenting, even in marketing — this morning was the first time I have ever gotten a third-party e-mail coupon from McDonald’s. Think I will forward it to San Francisco city council and let them know what we, in the city of cheesesteaks and hoagies, prefer from our fast-food franchises.
Update: This new site is being promoted by McDonald’s via banner ads on LinkedIn. A listening tour is planned, so whether you are committed to current fare or new better nutritional options, speak now or forever hold your peace (peas) (mind your peas and Qs) (oh forget it).
Update 2: McDonald’s is a global brand, which means its Happy Meals headaches are not limited to San Francisco city council. This week, the government of Sao Paulo, Brazil is fining them $1.8 million for encouraging unhealthy eating habits in children. Google poverty in Brazil and you can see making sure kids are fed period still remains a challenge, so this fine seems to be a distraction from bigger issues at best.