While fast-food chains are responding to nutritional criticism by enhancing their kids menus, American children appear less and less interested in what they're peddling. NPD Group calculated that visits to fast-food restaurants in which kids meals were purchased have declined every year since 2007 and fell by 5 percent last year from 2010.
It's not that parents don't want healthier fare to their children when they eat out. In the U.S., analysts are suggesting that the notion of kids' meals is becoming increasingly outdated as family eating patterns change. And for that reason, they say, even sales of McDonald's iconic Happy Meal might be only flat these days at best — and at a chain whose other product lines are growing robustly, that's not good performance.
One factor, for example, is tight budgets that continue to afflict many American households — especially fast-food consumers — at a time of high unemployment and continued economic uncertainty. Mothers have "probably switched to the value menu because it was cheaper than the kids meal" at many chains, Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant-industry analyst, told the Chicago Tribune.
It also appears that kids are becoming disenchanted with the licensed toys packaged in the meals, at a younger and younger age, dropping from age 12 to eight. Blame digital entertainment, cell phones, and other rivals for kids' attention. But all of that apparently doesn't hold true in the UK, where McDonald's is using the revamped Happy Meal as a marketing hook to win over parents (via their kids) around its London 2012 Olympics sponsorship.
The Happy Meal is still an attractive enough sub-brand that McDonald's this week launched a promotion in the U.K. around the mascot characters of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Wenlock and Mandeville.
With 100 days to go before the opening ceremony, the official restaurant sponsor of the Games unveiled a new Mascotathon promotion encouraging British kids to get excited about the Games — and get active themselves. Its limited edition Olympics Happy Meal toy options including stepometers, jumpometers, bats and balls and a relay baton. Also included in the promotion will be an Olympics ticket giveaway for kids.
McDonald's UK isn't promoting Ronald McDonald as part of its associated 100-day countdown to the beginning of the Games. But just as the chain has said all along, it hasn't exactly benched the ancient mascot — only relegated him to particularly effective roles, such as appearing on the cover of the company's Fun Times magazine with American Olympian Dara Torres, and appearing in commercials only visible to those watching video-on-demand channels on TV.
"He is our ambassador of fun and activity," a chain spokeswoman told Crain's Chicago Business about Ronald, "and he will continue to be."
McDonald's in January announced "Champions of Play" as its global kids' marketing theme around the Olympics.
Its UK franchisees are also encouraging kids to get moving by supporting young "footballers" (soccer players) ahead of the London 2012 games: