McDonalds has figured out how to get around an imminent ban on toy giveaways in children’s meals that have too much sugar, salt and fat: Charge 10 cents per toy.
The fast-food giant will not be pocketing all those extra dimes and nickels from the new San Francisco ordinance that goes into effect on Thursday. The proceeds from the sales of the toys will go to build a new Ronald McDonald House to temporarily house families with sick children at the new UCSF Hospital now under construction at the Mission Bay campus.
Under the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance, chain restaurants can no longer give away toys with Happy Meals or other kids’s meals that don’t meet San Francisco’s strict nutritional guidelines. Meals must contain no more than 600 calories, a drink option without excess sugar or fat and a helping of fruits and vegetables. Jack in the Box franchises are already no longer including toys, period, with kids’s meals. Over the summer, McDonalds attempted to (so to speak) “beef up” the nutritional content of its kids’s meals over the summer, by lessening the amount of French fries in the meals and including apple slices in stores in California and some other regions.
McDonalds had considered charging ten cents less for the Happy Meals so consumers would not see a price difference if they purchased a Happy Meal and a toy. But customers indicated they would not mind paying a 10-cent-fee which they have deemed “fair and reasonable.”
The San Francisco ordinance is modeled on one that already affects a number of fast-food restaurants in Santa Clara County. New York City is also considering a ban on toys being included with children’s meals that do not meet certain nutritional criteria.
Critics are questioning the San Francisco ban. Scott Rodrick, who owns 10 of the 19 McDonald’s in San Francisco, says that “This law is not what my customers wanted or asked for, but the law’s the law.” Supervisor Eric Mar, the chief sponsor of San Francisco’s ordinance, says that a “parent’s right to choose” was never in danger of being taken away. The fees are rather meant as an incentive to encourage fast food restaurants to increase the nutritional content of their offerings.
As Corporate Accountability International points out, by making sure it is well known that the money from the toys is going to a good cause (Ronald McDonald House), McDonald’s “is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes.” McDonalds spent $400 million plus per year to market its meals. Without those slicky and glitzy promotions, maybe people would actually be more aware of what those fat/sugar/salt-laden burgers, fries and McMuffins taste like.
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