Taco Bell Avoids Childhood-Obesity Debate by Axing Kids' Meals
Taco Bell may have saved more than profits when it decided to stop selling kids' meals and toys.
The Mexican-style fast-food chain said this week that it was discontinuing menu items geared toward children, moving those food choices to the adult menu and no longer giving out toys.
On the surface, Taco Bell, a unit of Yum Brands, is doing this for its bottom line. The company noted such sales were just 1 percent of its total, so it wasn't worth it to offer toys or a segregated item.
"As we continue our journey of being a better, more relevant Taco Bell, kids' meals and toys simply no longer make sense for us to put resources behind," said Greg Creed, Taco Bell's chief executive, in a statement.
Indeed, revenue from kids' meals have declined across the board at restaurants. It doesn't make business sense to spend money on something that is becoming less important to the bottom line.
But removing children's meals saves Taco Bell in another way: It won't be accused of making kids fat.
There is very little endearing about the Taco Bell menu from a health standpoint. The menu items for kids -- bean burrito, soft taco and crunchy taco -- aren't going to be promoted on The Dr. Oz Show as life extenders. Taco Bell is what it is and has always been: fast food in the Mexican style, minus a lot of spice and the Montezuma's Revenge.
No fast-food restaurant is a dieter's dream, but Americans love them. They provide tasty food at a very cheap price. They are exemplars of American capitalism, as American as apple pie (served semi-hot in a cardboard sleeve).
These restaurants, though, have found themselves in the crosshairs of public-policy groups looking to make us a healthier nation. Fast-food restaurants have deflected this criticism by saying people here are free to choose how they want to eat, how they want to feel and how they want to look.
So the food police shifted to a children's crusade. Sure, adults can make choices, they argued, but kids can't. Giving a kid a French fry was akin to child abuse. The Center for Science in the Public Interest sued McDonald's to ban Happy Meals, calling it a "predatory practice" to give little kids toys with their cheeseburgers. Santa Clara County in California voted to ban toys in Happy Meals, too.
Yum Brands was not immune. Its KFC unit offered L'il Bucket kids meals and was criticized for making it too easy for kids to have access to, well, chicken. Darden Restaurants' Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains made changes to their menus in the face of criticism.
Now, Taco Bell can get out of that debate, and the company can exercise its right to sell whatever legal product it chooses.
For 1 percent of revenue, it wasn't worth the cost, either for the little plastic toys or the headline risk.
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Ray Hennessey is the former editorial director of Entrepreneur.