Wendy’s this week announced a partnership with child-learning company LeapFrog that puts LeapSchool Friends toys in its kids meals. But that comes as new research from Chicago’s NPD finds that kids meal toys may be losing their appeal. For the year ended in December 2011, NPD says, the number of restaurant visits that included a child’s meal with a toy premium declined by 6% compared with the same period a year earlier.
One reason for the fall off is a decline in customer traffic by family groups with children. According to NPD’s CREST research, 19.5 billion customer groups including kids visited restaurants in 2011, with 15 billion of those visits made to QSRs. That compares with 21 billion groups including children visiting restaurants in 2006, with 17 billion of those visits made to QSRs.
But kids may just be getting bored with chicken nuggets, apple slices and other typical children’s fare. “In addition to the economic factor, kids have become more sophisticated, and just like adults, they want to try new things, new foods,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant analyst in a release announcing the research findings. “Kids have a wider variety of foods and flavors available to them today than they have in the past.”
In November 2010, San Francisco outlawed giving kids-meal toys unless several strict nutrition guidelines were met. McDonald’s simply sidestepped hurdle that by charging 10¢ for the toys. The city has so far been unwilling to outlaw selling toys to the parents of children, and Burger King has matched McDonald’s upcharge tactic.
Jack in the Box last year put an end to its involvement in the debate by eliminating all toys from its kids meal packs.
Last month, a San Francisco judge threw out a proposed class-action lawsuit backed by consumer gadfly The Center for Science in the Public Interest. It sought to ban Happy Meal toys as a violation of consumer protection laws and an unfair enticement to children.