The McDonald's Toy Fact That May Come As A Surprise

happy meal with toy
happy meal with toy - David Paul Morris/Getty Images

McDonald's Happy Meals are immensely popular among customers, regardless of their age or maturity level. The chain even briefly offered a new Happy Meal made for adults, to the delight of the kid in all of us. Its popularity has much to do with the toys that accompany child-sized menu items like hamburgers and chicken nuggets. In fact, McDonald's once had the designation of being the world's top toy distributor, with claims that the restaurant handed out a staggering 1.5 million toys annually.

As for the company's current standing in the toy market, it's hard to perform a direct comparison with legitimate toy companies. Consider that toy manufacturers are usually ranked by revenue and not distribution volume. For instance, Mattel earned $5.4 billion from toy sales in 2022, while Lego brought in $8 billion in revenue during the same year. While these figures are immensely impressive, McDonald's is likely still a major player when it comes to global toy distribution thanks to the lasting appeal of its Happy Meals.

Read more: The Ultimate Ranking Of American Fast Food Restaurants

Who Invented The Happy Meal And Its Prized Toys?

McDonald's signage daytime
McDonald's signage daytime - Jetcityimage/Getty Images

The creation of McDonald's iconic menu items is often the stuff of legend. Consider that the Big Mac was originally created for steel workers in Pennsylvania. As for the Happy Meal, it's not entirely clear who invented the concept at the chain. Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, a McDonald's franchise owner in Guatemala during the 70s, claimed to have come up with the idea in an attempt to brand her restaurant as a family-friendly establishment. This led to the creation of what Cofiño called Ronald's Menu, which included smaller portions, a dessert, and a toy.

Around the same time, the owner of a competing eatery developed a Fun Meal, which featured a similar configuration of food, dessert, and a toy. Upon getting wind of the Fun Meal, two advertising executives (Dick Brams and Bob Bernstein) with links to McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal concept to the fast food chain's senior executive vice president at the time. These days, Bernstein is often referred to as the creator of the Happy Meal, but it's clear that the great idea had many contributors.

Controversies Surrounding McDonald's Happy Meals

children eating happy meals
children eating happy meals - Madzia71/Getty Images

Plastic waste is a big concern among consumers these days, which has led McDonald's to propose some changes in the type of toys it includes in its Happy Meals. The restaurant hopes to cut back on how much plastic is used in its toys by 2025, with plans to replace items with environmentally friendly and recycled materials. In a statement posted on the McDonald's website, the overall goal is to achieve "an approximately 90% reduction in virgin fossil fuel-based plastic use against a 2018 baseline."

Along with concerns about the environmental impact of Happy Meal toys, McDonald's has also faced tough questions about their impact on the health of kids. In California, San Francisco placed restrictions on Happy Meals in 2010 due to concerns about the nutritional content of the food. City officials were worried that the tempting nature of the toys would lead children and their parents to make poor food choices, so they insisted they could only be included if the meals met certain standards.

However, instead of revamping its menu, McDonald's began charging for toys (as opposed to giving them away). It should be noted that Happy Meals currently comes with healthier options, such as low-fat milk and apple slices, making them as popular as ever.

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