The Real Reason Taco Bell Killed Kids Meals

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The decision came down to money, not concerns about nutrition or childhood obesity. In fact, after eliminating kids meals, Taco Bell may wind up feeding just as many children as it did in the past—and they’re likely to pay more, while scarfing down even more calories.

For the most part, Taco Bell’s announcement this week that it would become the “first quick service restaurant to discontinue kid’s meals and toys nationally” was greeted by nutrition experts as a step in the right direction. “To give them credit, this is a more positive approach than creating a meal marketed to kids that’s not healthy,” Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, said in a phone interview.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), released a statement urging “McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and others to follow Taco Bell’s lead and stop using toys or other premiums to lure kids to meals of poor nutritional quality.”

Despite positioning itself as an industry trendsetter (“first quick service restaurant …”), Taco Bell isn’t pretending to suddenly be obsessed with health food and nutrition. No one would buy that. This is a restaurant chain, after all, that OK’d an ad that mocked vegetarians not along ago. Instead, Taco Bell decided to get rid of kids meals because they weren’t big money makers. “Kid’s meals are not part of Taco Bell’s long-term brand strategy and have had an insignificant impact on system sales,” the company’s press release stated.

(MORE: Why We’re Eating Fewer Happy Meals)

The elimination of kids meals may also resound with Taco Bell’s core customers in their teens and 20s. “It’s fairly inconsistent for an edgy, twentysomething brand to offer kids meals,” Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed said. The kids meal link on Taco Bell’s website is already dead, and kids meals will disappear nationwide at Taco Bell restaurants by early next year.

Unlike McDonald’s, whose Happy Meals have been estimated to account for 10% of all sales, kids meals constituted less than 1% of sales at Taco Bell, according to USA Today. As fast food restaurants have increasingly felt pressure to make kids meals more nutritious and also stop marketing to children, “it was probably easier for Taco Bell to give up entirely” on kids meals, said the Rudd Center’s Harris. “Kids meals just weren’t worth the trouble” for the chain, in Harris’s opinion.

It’s especially easy for Taco Bell to cut kids meals because the company has spent very little in the way of marketing to children over the years. The Rudd Center estimates that the food industry spends $1.8 billion annually marketing to kids, but Taco Bell executives say the company hasn’t promoted kids meals on TV or on social media in more than a dozen years. “The advertising on TV is very effective,” Harris said, pointing to the Rudd Center’s 2010 study indicating that 40% of parents said their children asked to go to McDonald’s at least once a week.

What’s interesting is that, because Taco Bell doesn’t advertise to kids, and the marketing of its kids meals had essentially been limited to within its restaurants, taking kids meals off the menu may not decrease the number of children eating at Taco Bell. “It’s possible kids who go there regularly and like getting the toys may not ask their parents to eat at Taco Bell as much,” said Harris. But she doesn’t foresee a significant dropoff in kids as Taco Bell customers.

(MORE: Study: Fast Food Ads Target Kids with Unhealthy Food, and It Works)

As for the kids who keep on coming into Taco Bell in the post-kids meal era, they’ll have to order off the adult menu—and the result is likely to be something that costs more and is less nutritional than the nonexistent kids meal. “Dropping the kids’ menu may lead parents to order higher calorie meals off the regular menu,” CSPI’s Wootan said, “and it’s not as if its adult menu is full of health food.”

10 comments
junglejinks
junglejinks

Since before my last comment here I have not purchased anything from Taco Bell, KFC or Pizza Hut. So Taco Bell is right about helping reduce the weight of my children. I pass their restaurants every time I go to McDonald's to get my kids their kids meal with toys. I get them fast food maybe once every two weeks just not Taco Bell. It sucks to because I loved the Dorrito Taco.

FOR THE CHILDREN!

junglejinks
junglejinks

You end up having to order larger portions and making your kids fatter because there isn't a small persons menu. Just face it. Taco Bell hates kids!

reidh
reidh

I'm guessing because they wanted to stop killing Kids?

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Feeding a kid Taco Hell dog food should be child abuse.   Have some pride in yourself people and don't eat that pink slime on a corn chip.

WayneGage
WayneGage

CSPI is a loser organization ignorant about good nutrition. But they have a say in what you are allowed to eat and how it is prepared. 

Tacomeat
Tacomeat

Your not suppose to play at the table while eating..

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

Without a lot of hoopla, let's say the reason is "not making enough money on it".  I could have written that article.  They are hardly killing any market.  You can get a "meal" for $2 at TB now (taco, bag of doritos, drink).  No toy, but decent enough for most kids.  In fact, it is what I get because it is the right amount (calories, cost).  Sometimes I add a $1 taco, and it is still the cheapest fast food lunch.

No one goes to TB for "health food".  That is the problem, no cheap fast food chain has come up with an attractive alternative.   How many salads does McDonalds sell?  I don't know but venture not many.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

@notLostInSpace 

That is not a meal, certainly not for developing children.  Make them a turkey sandwich or something you lazy jerk!

Guest43658468
Guest43658468

@SukeMadiq @notLostInSpace Speaking of being a jerk ...


I don't know about you, but I don't carry sandwich fixings with me away from home most of the time. I don't think that's lazy.


And certainly, frequently eating chips and soda (no matter what it's paired with) is not a healthy habit, there's not likely much harm from an occasional indulgence.  While I wouldn't call a TB taco "health food", it's not really that bad: some protein, some carbs, some fat, a little bit of fresh veggies and some dairy.