The evolution of the Happy Meal

The Happy Meal has come a long way.

In response to customer backlash, lawsuits and efforts to ban toys from the kids meal, McDonald’s has promised better ingredients, fewer calories and more responsible marketing.

It’s paying off. Disney and McDonald’s partnered this year for the first time in more than a decade.

Tiffany Rende, senior vice president of corporate alliances for Disney, said when the deal was announced that “McDonald’s commitment to balanced Happy Meals allows our two companies to collaborate.”

In June, McDonald’s began giving out “Incredibles 2” toys in Happy Meals. In the fall, it will give out “Wreck-It Ralph 2” trinkets. The partnership is “clearly a win” for the company, said Morningstar analyst RJ Hottovy.

“Disney’s got a great portfolio of brands and characters that would be a good fit for a restaurant targeting families,” Hottovy said. Plus, a deal with Disney could open the door to new marketing collaborations, he said.

Now McDonald’s has another challenge on its plate: Appealing to Millennial parents.

“In the next five years, I think this is going to become one of the biggest things we talk about in the restaurant industry,” said Sam Oches, editorial director of Food News Media at QSR magazine. And, he said, companies are starting to pay attention.

McDonald’s, especially, needs to care about kids meals.

Roughly one in every four orders at McDonald’s includes a Happy Meal, according to the research company Sense360, which asked more than 1,300 McDonald’s customers about their orders over four days in August.

And the Happy Meal may mean even more to the McDonald’s brand. After all, Oches said, kids hold a veto vote — a family won’t go to a restaurant where there’s nothing for children to eat.

“Kids like to eat with their hands,” noted Julie Hennessy, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “They tend to hate new tastes … kids don’t wish there were more options.”

For them, “a Happy Meal is kind of perfect in all ways.” For health advocates, the meal is far from perfect.

Happy Meal in crisis

mcdonalds happy meal
A McDonald’s Happy Meal with apple slices.

In 2006, Disney (DIS) and McDonald’s parted ways after a 10-year deal. At the time, rumors swirled that Disney didn’t want to be associated with a brand accused of promoting childhood obesity. Both companies denied the speculation, saying the split was amicable.

A few years later, criticism of the McDonald’s Happy Meal became more explicit.

In 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest accused the company of an “insidious” use of Happy Meal toys to market to children. McDonald’s said the center was “wrong in its assertions,” and accused the group of denigrating parents and families “fully capable of making their own decisions.”

The following year, nutrition advocates called for the company to retire Ronald McDonald. San Francisco passed a law barring fast food restaurants from giving away toys with children’s meals that don’t meet California’s nutritional standards.

McDonald’s fought back. In response to criticism from CSPI, Jim Skinner, who was CEO at the time, said “we will vigorously defend our brand,” adding that “parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat.”

When Happy Meals failed to meet San Francisco’s health standards, McDonald’s (and others) skirted the ban by charging 10 cents per toy, and donating the proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House of San Francisco.

“Parents have told us they’d still like the option of purchasing a toy,” McDonald’s said in a statement at the time. “While we will fully comply with this law, we also have a responsibility to give our customers what they want.”

But it also heeded the criticism. The company promised to overhaul its Happy Meals menu by early 2012: Each new meal included a smaller serving of french fries and added fruit. In 2013, it tapped the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help it promote healthier eating.

Happy Meals for a new generation

mcdonald happy meal marios luigi
In 2014, Nintendo partnered with McDonald’s to include Mario Kart toys in Happy Meals.

In February 2018, the company announced an expanded partnership with the Alliance, and shared more changes to its Happy Meals menu. The company vowed that, by the end of 2022, Happy Meals will be better balanced and use fewer artificial ingredients, and McDonald’s will market healthier ingredients through digital kiosks, among other things.

Notably, McDonald’s is making cheeseburgers available in Happy Meals only upon request, shrinking the side of french fries in six-nugget Happy Meals and reducing the amount of sugar in its chocolate milk.

Less than two weeks after McDonald’s shared plans for the new round of changes, it announced the renewed deal with Disney.

Soon after, McDonald’s announced another deal — this time with Rubik’s Cube.

McDonald’s and The Smiley Company, which licenses Rubik’s Cube, said in June that this summer and fall, McDonald’s locations throughout the world will sell Happy Meals in Rubik’s Cube boxes and include specialized mini Rubik’s Cubes.

Oches thinks that the partnership could be an effort to appeal to young parents.

“Certainly Millennials and Gen Xers are going to have a particular relationship,” to the toy, he said. Nostalgia could encourage parents to pick up a Happy Meal for their children. And Rubik’s branding as an educational tool can’t hurt, he said.

Hottovy thinks McDonald’s may make changes to the kids menu in the future, such as healthier products or some type of Happy Meals integration into the brand’s digital platform. But, he said, Happy Meals themselves are here to stay.

McDonald’s to reduce calories in Happy Meals

McDonald’s is making Happy Meals healthier.

By 2022, cheeseburgers won’t be part of the menu for the kids’ meals, although parents can still ask for them. The main choices will be hamburgers and four- and six-piece Chicken McNuggets. And the French fry sizes will be smaller.

Bottled water will be added to Happy Meals later this year, and chocolate milk will come with less sugar. McDonald’s also pledged to serve more fruits, vegetables and grains.

All Happy Meals in the United States will have 600 calories or less by June, and at least half of stores and drive-throughs around the world will meet that target by 2022. McDonald’s says the calorie count in an average Happy Meal will come down 20%.

The company also said Thursday it will “reinforce responsible marketing to children,” in a statement Thursday.

Related: Why you won’t see Olympics-themed McDonald’s ads this year

The American Heart Association called the move an “important step in the right direction” and urged McDonald’s competitors to follow suit. The organization said 40% of young children eat fast food every day.

McDonald’s (MCD) has been tinkering with Happy Meals for several years in response to pressure from public health groups, and to lawsuits for using toys to market to kids.

Roughly 15% of McDonald’s customers come in to order happy meals, according to Stifel analyst Chris O’Cull. McDonald’s sells more food to kids and families than do competitors such as Burger King and Wendy’s.

Related: McDonald’s cheaper menu items are a big hit

In 2011, McDonald’s added apple slices to Happy Meals. Soda came off the menu in 2013. And last year, McDonald’s replaced Minute Maid apple juice with its lower-sugar Honest Kids brand juice.

It’s also experimenting around the globe with new Happy Meal items. Last month, McDonald’s rolled out a grilled chicken sandwich in Italy, and locations in Australia and France are exploring vegetable and protein options.

Ernest Baskin, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, argued McDonald’s made the changes for two main reasons: improving its image among parents and reducing costs on food.

“Kids do crave McDonald’s, but parents might not always feel good about bringing them there,” he said. “By positioning their meals as healthier, McDonald’s is likely attempting to make the decision easier for the parents.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker made the comments as Professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh sexually and physically assaulted here.
“The accusations brought against Judge Kavanaugh are sickening and deserve an independent investigation,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker tweeted. “There should be no vote in the Senate.”
Baker, who faces re-election this November, is one of only a few Republican governors, all political moderates, to express dissatisfaction with the committee’s handling of the allegations made against Kavanaugh. In July, Baker was one of three Republican governors, along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, to not sign a letter to Senate leaders offering support for Kavanaugh’s nomination.
In an interview with the Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s Republican governor encouraged senators to conduct a full investigation and “take your time.”
“This is a lifetime appointment,” Scott said. “And I’m not taking a position on Judge Kavanaugh himself, but we owe it to Americans to make sure that they get it right because this doesn’t happen every day.”
“And it’s their obligation to do so. So take your time. Investigate,” he said. “And make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has urged the Senate to slow down its confirmation process and said he would not support Kavanaugh’s nomination unless a full investigation is carried out.
“In the absence of a complete and thorough investigation, and hearing from all parties involved, moving this nomination forward would be a mistake,” Kasich said in a statement. “In the best interest of our country and the integrity of the court, the Senate needs to hold on this confirmation. Without an investigation, and with so many serious issues involved, I can’t support this nomination if they choose to move forward.”
Ford has alleged Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted her at a party during their high school years. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled its vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. — less than 24 hours after Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimony would conclude.
A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said committee rules require these types of votes must be posted three days in advance.
“An executive business meeting is being noticed tonight in the event that a majority of the members are prepared to hold one on Friday,” Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Grassley, said.
Grassley suggested in a tweet that a committee vote could be further delayed.
“Judic Cmte noticed POTENTIAL exec mtg for Friday. Still taking this 1 step at a time. After hrg Dr Ford & Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony- if we’re ready to vote, we will vote. If we aren’t ready, we won’t. Cmte rules normally require 3 days notice so we’re following regular order,” Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said.
I understand that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh have been through a terrible past few weeks. They and their families have received vile threats. What they have endured is unacceptable and a poor reflection on the state of our politics. So I want to apologize to you both for the way you’ve been treated. I intend to make today’s hearing safe, comfortable, and dignified. I hope my colleagues will join me.
With that said, I lament the way this hearing has come about. On July 9, 2018, the President announced Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Kavanaugh has served on the most important federal appellate court in the country for the last 12 years. Before that, he held some of the most sensitive positions in the federal government. The President added Judge Kavanaugh to his short list for the Supreme Court more than 9 months ago — on November 17, 2017. As part of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the FBI conducted its sixth full-field background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh since 1993 — 25 years ago. Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports, which committee investigators have reviewed on a bipartisan basis, was there ever a whiff of any issue — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior.
Dr. Ford first raised her allegations in a secret letter to the Ranking Member nearly two months ago in July. The Ranking Member took no action. The letter wasn’t shared with me, our colleagues, or my staff. These allegations could’ve been investigated in a way that maintained the confidentiality Dr. Ford requested.
Before his hearing, Judge Kavanaugh met privately with 65 senators, including the Ranking Member. But the Ranking Member didn’t ask Judge Kavanaugh about the allegations when she met with him privately in August. The Senate Judiciary Committee held its four-day public hearing from September 4 to September 7, 2018. Judge Kavanaugh testified for more than 32 hours in public. We held a closed session for members to ask sensitive questions on the last evening, which the Ranking Member did not attend. Judge Kavanaugh answered nearly 1,300 written questions submitted by senators after the hearing — more than all prior Supreme Court nominees combined. Throughout this period, we did not know about the Ranking Member’s secret evidence.
Only at the eleventh hour, on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh’s committee vote, did the Ranking Member refer the allegations to the FBI. And then the allegations were leaked to the press. This is a shameful way to treat Dr. Ford, who insisted on confidentiality, and Judge Kavanaugh, who has had to address these allegations in the midst of a media circus.
When I received Dr. Ford’s letter on September 13, my staff and I recognized the seriousness of these allegations and immediately began our Committee’s investigation, consistent with the way the Committee has handled such allegations in the past. Every step of the way, the Democratic side refused to participate in what should’ve been a bipartisan investigation.
After Dr. Ford’s identity became public, my staff contacted all of the individuals she said attended the 1982 party described in the Washington Post article. Judge Kavanaugh immediately submitted to an interview under penalty of felony for any knowingly false statements. He denied the allegations categorically. Democratic staff was invited to participate—and could’ve asked any questions they wanted to—but they declined. Which leads me to wonder, if they’re really concerned with getting to the truth, why wouldn’t you want to talk to the accused? This is what the Committee always does when we receive any allegations of wrong-doing.
My staff reached out to the other individuals allegedly at the party—Mark Judge, Patrick J. Smyth, and Leland Ingham Keyser. All three submitted statements to the Senate under penalty of felony denying any knowledge of the events described by Dr. Ford. Dr. Ford’s lifelong friend, Ms. Keyser, stated she doesn’t know Judge Kavanaugh and doesn’t recall ever attending a party with him.
My staff made repeated requests to interview Dr. Ford during the past eleven days, even volunteering to fly to California to take her testimony. But her attorneys refused to present her allegations to Congress. I nevertheless honored her request for a public hearing, so Dr. Ford today has the opportunity to present her allegations under oath.
As you can see, the Judiciary Committee was able to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations. Some of my colleagues—consistent with their stated desiresf to obstruct the Kavanaugh nomination by any means necessary—pushed for an FBI investigation into the allegations. But I have no authority to force an Executive Branch agency to conduct an investigation into a matter it considers to be closed. Moreover, once the allegations became public, it was easy to identify all the alleged witnesses and conduct our own investigation. Contrary to what the public has been led to believe, the FBI doesn’t perform any credibility assessment or verify the truth of any event in these background investigations.
I’ll quote then-Chairman Joe Biden during Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearing:
“The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything obviously doesn’t understand anything. The FBI explicitly does not in this or any other case reach a conclusion. Period. . . . They say he said, she said, and they said, period. So when people wave an FBI report before you, understand they do not, they do not, they do not reach conclusions. They do not make . . . recommendations.”
The FBI provided us with the allegations. Now it’s up to the Senate to assess their credibility. Which brings us to today.
I look forward to a fair and respectful hearing. Some of my colleagues have complained about the fact that an expert on this side in investigating sex crimes will be questioning the witnesses. I see no basis for the complaint other than base politics. The testimony we will hear today concerns allegations of sexual assault. This is an incredibly complex and sensitive subject to discuss. That is why the senators on this side of the dais believe an expert who has deep experience and training in interviewing victims of sexual assault and investigating sexual assault allegations should be asking questions. This will be a stark contrast to the grandstanding and chaos we saw from the other side earlier in this hearing process.
I can think of no one better equipped to question the witnesses than Rachel Mitchell. Ms. Mitchell is a career prosecutor and civil servant with decades of experience investigating and prosecuting sex crimes. She has dedicated her career to seeking justice for survivors of sex-related felonies. Most recently, Rachel was the Division Chief of the Special Victims Division in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes sex crimes and family violence. Governor Janet Napolitano previously recognized her as the Outstanding Arizona Sexual Assault Prosecutor of the Year. And she has spent years instructing prosecutors, detectives and child-protection workers on how to properly interview victims of sexual assault and abuse. With her aid, I look forward to a fair and productive hearing.
I understand that there are two other public allegations. Today’s hearing was scheduled in close consultation with Dr. Ford’s attorneys, and her testimony will be the subject of this hearing. We have been trying to investigate these allegations. At this time, we have not had cooperation from attorneys representing other clients, and they have made no attempt to substantiate their claims. My staff has tried to secure testimony and evidence from attorneys for both Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. My staff made eight requests for evidence from attorneys for Ms. Ramirez and six requests for evidence from the attorney for Ms. Swetnick. Neither attorney has made their clients available for an interview. The Committee can’t do an investigation if attorneys are stonewalling.
Additionally, all of the witnesses should know that they have a right, under Senate Rule 26.5, to ask that the committee go into closed session, if a question requires an answer that is a clear invasion of their right to privacy.” If either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh feel that Senate Rule 26.5 ought to be invoked, they should simply say so.
Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying on Thursday.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Updated 11:40 AM ET, Thu September 27, 2018

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying on Thursday.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

A high-stakes hearing has begun in Washington with testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual and physical assault from an incident in the 1980s, when the two were at a party during their high-school years.

“I am terrified,” she said in her opening statement. “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied Ford’s allegation, which has threatened to derail his confirmation. He will get his chance to speak and answer questions after Ford is questioned and leaves the room.

Republicans on the committee, all of whom are men, have hired Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor experienced in sex-crime cases, to question Ford for them.

Since Ford’s accusation, at least three others have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh has denied them all and said he is facing a “smear campaign.”

During the brief exchange, Grassley and Feinstein talked over one another. Grassley cut in to say that he had planned to introduce Ford himself after Feinstein said that she wanted to make sure that that Ford was “properly introduced” before testifying.
Just before the interruption, Feinstein pointed out that Grassley had not formally introduced Ford during his opening remarks. Addressing Ford, the California Democrat said, “Before you get to your testimony — and the chairman chose not to do this — I think it’s important to make sure you’re properly introduced.”
At that point, Grassley interjected to say, “I was going to introduce her. But if you want to introduce her, I’d be glad to have you do that, but I want you to know I didn’t forget to do that because I would do that just as she was about to speak.”
Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in their high school years at a social gathering in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegation.
The back-and-forth over who would introduce Ford came after Grassley was critical of the California Democrat’s handling of Ford’s allegation in his opening statement at the hearing.
“I lament how this hearing has come about,” Grassley said in his initial remarks.
He went on to say, “Only at an 11th hour, on the eve of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, did the ranking member refer the allegations to the FBI. And then the allegations were leaked to the press. That’s where Dr. Ford was mistreated. This is a shameful way to treat our witness, who insisted on confidentiality, and Judge Kavanaugh, who has had to address these allegations in the midst of a media circus.”
Feinstein responded to Grassley’s criticism when she began her opening remarks, saying, “Yes, I did receive a letter from Dr. Ford … the next day, I called Dr. Ford, we spoke on the phone, she reiterated that she wanted this held confidential. And I held it confidential, up to a point where the witness was willing to come forward.”
In his opening statement, Grassley said that both Ford and Kavanaugh have “been through a terrible couple of weeks” as “they and their families have received vile threats.” He said that he wanted to “apologize” to both of them “for the way you’ve been treated.”
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It is touted as the future of military aviation: a lethal and versatile aircraft that combines stealth capabilities, supersonic speed, extreme agility and state-of-the-art sensor fusion technology, according to Lockheed Martin, the plane’s primary contractor.
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The F-35 has been a favorite of President Donald Trump, who has lauded the aircraft several times for being “invisible.” The aircraft has reduced capability to be seen by adversary radars but is not invisible.

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McDonald’s is putting fresh beef in the Quarter Pounder

McDonald’s is on a mission to eliminate artificial ingredients from its menu. Even the Big Mac Special Sauce is getting a makeover.

The fast-food company, which hopes to attract more health-conscious consumers to its drive-thrus and counters, announced changes to its most popular hamburgers Wednesday.

Its seven classic burgers — the hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, McDouble, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Big Mac — will no longer include artificial preservatives, flavors or coloring.

The change affects every part of the sandwich, from the bun, to the cheese and the sauce.

McDonald’s (MCD) said it stripped components like calcium propionate, an artificial preservative, from its buns and eliminated sorbic acid, a preservative, from its American cheese.

The iconic Big Mac Special Sauce is also being reformulated. McDonald’s said it’s removing artificial preservatives including potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and calcium disodium EDTA without “sacrificing that signature taste.”

But one thing that isn’t changing? The pickle. Those still contain an artificial preservative.

“This development demonstrates our commitment to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s,” said McDonald’s US president Chris Kempczinski in a statement.

McDonald’s is following an industry trend toward healthier food. Companies like Taco Bell, Subway and Panera Bread have all recently moved to nix artificial ingredients from their menus.

In 2016, McDonald’s eliminated artificial preservatives from its McNuggets and ditched high fructose corn syrup in its buns.

Earlier this year, the company replaced frozen beef with fresh beef in its Quarter Pounders and rejiggered its Happy Meal offerings with healthier options, like milk.

“In that case, the President immediately said, ‘new issues, the FBI is going to investigate. We’ll get the facts,'” the Oregon Democrat said to CNN’s “New Day” co-anchor Alisyn Camerota. “That’s not happening now.”
Merkley expressed disappointment with the committee’s handling of Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s when they were both in high school. Kavanaugh and the White house have repeatedly denied her allegation.
#MeToo, 1991 hang over Christine Blasey Ford's testimony

“With Anita Hill, there were many, many people who came to testify and shed light on the situation. This committee is blocking that,” he said.
Hill testified in October 1991 that Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked with him at the Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In hearings that lasted for three days, the committee heard testimony from more than a dozen outside witnesses. An FBI investigation was also conducted to look into Hill’s claims. Ford and Senate Democrats’ request for a similar investigation into her claims has gone unfulfilled.
Last week, Hill wrote in a New York Times op-ed that the committee “failed” to fulfill its proper role in its handling of Thomas’ nomination and called for an independent investigation into Ford’s allegations.
“A fair, neutral and well-thought-out course is the only way to approach Dr. (Ford) and Judge Kavanaugh’s upcoming testimony,” Hill wrote. “The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence.”
In a statement released on Sunday, Ford’s lawyers said they were dissatisfied that the committee did not plan to subpoena Mark Judge, whom Ford has alleged was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her.
Anita Hill all over again? Here's why Republicans fear a repeat

Anita Hill all over again? Here's why Republicans fear a repeat

Judge has denied having any memory of such an incident and said he did not want to testify.
Merkley went on to call Thursday’s hearing, in which both Ford and Kavanaugh will testify, “a farce” and said the treatment that Ford is receiving is “inappropriate.”
“I am appalled and embarrassed by what is happening in the US Senate right now,” he said.
The committee plans to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination early Friday.