Adult Happy Meal Rollout Leaves Much to Grimace About

Earlier this month, the fine folks at McDonald’s rolled out a Happy Meal aimed at adults called the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box in honor of the company that they partnered with to bring the vision to life.

In full disclosure, during my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at the University of Central Florida I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal.

Motivations for getting a Happy Meal range from when just wanting a quick and cheap snack, to wanting to feel a little like a kid again with a chocolate milk and some tiny fries.

During my adult life I have ordered many Happy Meals. I could lie and say that those Happy Meals were all ordered as research for this column, but the reality is that ever since my undergrad days at UCF, I have enjoyed an occasional Happy Meal. Recently, the people at McDonalds decided that they had had enough with the kid stuff to the point of rolling out an adult version of the happy meal with more food and freakier looking toys.
Photo R. Anderson

So, I really never saw the need to differentiate between a kid’s version of a Happy Meal and an adult version.

After all, at the end of the day, a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger no matter how you wrap it in yellow paper.

The people at McDonald’s however do see a need to target different demographics with their boxed meals as evidenced by the 2001 rollout of the Mighty Kids Meal. For those who may not recall, the Mighty Kids Meal was for those discerning youth who considered themselves too old for a Happy Meal, yet not quite ready to take the plunge and order off of the adult menu just yet.

Which brings us smack dab to the waning months of 2022 and the rollout of an adult version of a Happy Meal.

Putting my Ad/PR minor from UCF to use, while also proving that I did more than just eat Happy Meals as an undergrad, (I also took part in all you can eat pork Tuesdays at Sonny’s).

Still, undergraduate eating habits aside, I can imagine what the brain trust at McHeadquarters was thinking as they brought the idea of an adult Happy Meal to life.

Wearing my marketing hat for a bit, I am guessing one of the interns came to a meeting McCafe iced coffee in hand and said, “you know, the last couple of years have been like a real-life poop emoji, we should do something to make our customers feel better, while also increasing profits during the third quarter.”

Then, an older, wiser Generation X marketing person stood up, wiped the cheeseburgers crumbs off of their tie and likely said, “back when I was young, I often found my happy place inside a cardboard box filled with a hamburger, French fries and a toy. We should try to recreate that magic again, but fill them with toys for adults instead.”

Of course, in certain circles the term “adult toys” has an entirely different meaning, but that is beside the point. The point is, on paper the idea of an adult Happy Meal seemed like a can’t fail slam dunk dripping with nostalgia and carbs crammed inside a cardboard box.

Sadly, the reality of the rollout was anything but smooth.

The McDonalds near the Johnson Space Center recently relocated and left its McPlayplace behind. For years, McDonalds has been on a mission to try to seem more adult as the playgrounds that were once a staple of the stores have been replaced with coffee bars and dual drive thru lanes. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before they would try to lean on both nostalgia and practicality with an Adult Happy Meal that tried to honor the past, but with less germ-infested ball pits. Unfortunately, as the old space saying goes,

For starters, the four-eyed version of classic characters from the Ronald McDonald McUniverse made me grimace like someone had hamburglared away a piece of my childhood. I was so not lovin’ it.

If the ice cream machine was ever working at my local McDonald’s, it would take many a McFlurry to try to erase the image out of my mind of the four eyed version of classic characters.

While I can accept that the original concept of Grimace included two sets of arms, I am still trying to get over the fact that a McDonald’s manager made waves last year when he stated that Grimace was designed to be an enormous taste bud.

How dare they tarnish my memories of the jolly purple sidekick further by turning him into a four-eyed purple vision of horror making people think they are seeing double. I don’t even get me started on the nightmares that a four-eyed clown can induce.

Still, the design of the toys did not dissuade people from wanting them. People descended upon McDonald’s like a swarm of angry murder hornets seeking sweet nectar from an endangered cactus flower.

So many people came, that the worker bees at McDonald’s took to social media to implore them to stop coming to the restaurants because making all of those adult Happy Meals was creating a hardship for them.

Long ago, I decided that I enjoyed eating food too much to ever work in a restaurant. I wanted to remain blissfully ignorant about what was or wasn’t done to my food between the time I ordered it, and the time I ate it.

So, I do not have a frame of reference related to the complaints from the staff of McDonald’s pertaining to the workload that the promotion caused them.

Still, when your job is literally to make food, and someone orders something off of your menu, you don’t get to blame the customer, or say don’t order something because it is hard to make.

That would be like me saying, “writing is hard, so don’t read my words, in order that I don’t have to string them into sentences anymore.”

My job is to write and give people something to read.

A restaurant’s job is to make food people can eat.

A fast-food restaurant’s job is to make the food rapidly.

Of course, part of the disdain from the workforce involves certain people over indulging and making huge orders. Many of these orders come from collectors hoping to stock up on the toys in order to sell them on secondary market sites.

And even as Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery once told Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek that he was sitting on a gold mine, I never got a Happy Meal because I thought the toy inside would fund my retirement. I got the Happy Meal because I wanted it.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

To get a glimpse of how ga ga gy people can go for McSwag, consider the cautionary tale of the Beanie Baby craze of the mid to late 1990s. Never one to miss a craze, McDonald’s placed mini Beanie Babies in Happy Meals.

People were so confident that Beanie Babies would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later.

Fast forward from the nineties to the 21st century and we see another example of good intentions going awry under the arches of gold.

Never one to miss out on a craze, McDonald’s placed mini beanie babies in Happy Meals in the late 1990s. People were so confident that the Beanie Baby would fund their dreams that they stockpiled them with plans of selling them for huge profits later. This lone beanie baby from that era has been collecting dust on various shelves in my office for over 20 years and others like it are currently listed online for an average of $5 which could barely buy a Happy Meal yet alone fund an entire retirement.
Photo R. Anderson

Back in 2010, McDonald’s recalled 12 million Shrek movie character drinking glasses because the paint on the glasses contained the toxic metal cadmium.

Of course, the recall only made the demand for the bootleg glasses distributed pre-recall even more valuable.

I would not be doing my job as a respected journalist if I did not pause for a moment and say, in the spirit of don’t try this at home, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, aka OSHHA, states that exposure to cadmium can lead to a variety of adverse health effects including cancer. Acute inhalation exposure (high levels over a short period of time) to cadmium can result in flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, and muscle pain) and can damage the lungs. Chronic exposure (low level over an extended period of time) can result in kidney, bone and lung disease.

With that in mind, I suppose the current shortage of retro four-eyed McToys does prevent people from getting ill from any adverse chemicals in their construction. After all, you cannot get sick if you don’t touch it. (Excuse me while I pause for a brief interlude to picture MC Hammer dancing and saying, “You Can’t Touch this.”)

To be fair, I am in no way suggesting that the current slate of toys is dangerous or cancer causing. I am sure that the Ronald McBrain Trust learned their lesson from the Shrek glasses and only source their toys and food from organically and ethically sourced vendors who are dedicated to environmental stewardship.

I cannot speak for their food being good for the environment based on the many tales of decades old French fries being found virtually in the same condition as the day they were deep fried in flavor juice.

However, McDonald’s announced in 2021 that they plan to drastically reduce their use of plastic by2025 by replacing the 1 billion children’s toys they sell annually with cardboard or recycled plant-based plastics.

That brings us back to the current four-eyed slap in my childhood’s face that is the new re-imagination of classic characters from the McUniverse.

You can have your four-eyed Ronald, Grimace and Hamburglar. As for me, I shall continue to honor the two-eyed versions of the classic characters with all of the saturated fatty goodness I remember. Although I suppose the next adult themed Happy Meal might be the Doogie Howser retro glucose monitor and EKG kit at this rate.

Sometimes one just needs to leave well enough alone and not try to keep reinventing the wheel, or try to be hip. People don’t go to McDonald’s to be hip. They go there for a quick and somewhat inexpensive meal that occasionally comes in a box with a toy and a milk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to put on my protective gloves so I can dust my cadmium laced Shrek glasses.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Yet Another “Storm of the Century” Reignites Great Debate

As parts of Florida and South Carolina continue their recovery efforts following the destructive path of Hurricane Ian, a debate rages about the effects that bigger and more frequent storms will have on everyday life.

No, I am not talking about the debate regarding whether warmer temperatures brought about by climate change means more powerful storms are here to stay. The answer to that is clearly yes, they do. The earth is getting warmer and storms and natural disasters will get bigger and more destructive if nothing is done to reduce the impacts of global warming and climate change. But that is a column for another day.

The debate I am referring to is the debate over the role sport plays in a disaster.

Much of my career in journalism has involved sports. When I wasn’t working as a sports reporter or editor, I served as both an intern and a director in collegiate Sports Information. I have a whole website devoted to my thoughts on baseball. I even have a Master of Science degree in Sport Management. So, needless to say, sports are something that I have a passion for.

Unfortunately, in recent years that passion has started to dim as I grow increasingly tired of the profit at all costs model implored by many sports leagues.

As some readers may recall, the issue of greed over player and spectator health is something that I wrote extensively about during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Time and time again, examples arise where the need to host a sporting event seems to win out over common sense and decency in reading the room.

After delaying the game twice as Hurricane Ian approached, the University of Central Florida hosted SMU this evening while residents of nearby neighborhoods continued their lengthy recovery from storm related flooding and other damage.
Photo R. Anderson

Tonight, my undergraduate alma mater the University of Central Florida hosts Southern Methodist University in a football game that was first slated to be played on Saturday but was rescheduled twice due to Ian.

Likewise, one of my graduate alma maters, the University of Florida, played a rescheduled game of their own on Sunday against Eastern Washington.

While both the UF and UCF stadiums did not suffer major damage, I have no doubt that the games would have been played somewhere even if the stadiums had been destroyed by Ian’s wrath. After all, the show must go on to keep the millions of dollars of revenue flowing.

While UCF’s stadium was declared ready to play, many of the neighborhoods surrounding campus, including my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood, were still dealing with the aftermath of flooding. In many cases, it will take days for the water in some neighborhoods to recede since there is so much water it literally has nowhere to go.

This brings up the debate of whether it is wise to encourage thousands of people to drive to an area that is still engaged in storm cleanup mode just to watch a football game.

Were I still working in a collegiate Sports Information Office and faced with a to play, or not to play, decision, I would be one of the few, if only people, saying that the optics of playing a game while so many people were suffering were not good.

Classes at the University of Florida and other schools in Florida were cancelled ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ian. As a result, the Gators game in the Swamp against Eastern Washington slipped from Saturday to Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

Speaking of optics, Florida State University gave away up to for tickets per family to in-state hurricane evacuees for their game against Wake Forest Saturday.

In making the announcement, FSU’s assistant athletic director of ticket operations and service told a local reporter that part of the motivation behind the giveaway for evacuees was to “give them a good experience at a time when they are already experiencing a lot of loss and sadness.”

While I like to think that it was meant as a gesture of goodwill, my sports marketing brain thinks that FSU athletics just wanted to try to make the stadium look less empty on TV; since at the time the ticket giveaway was announced around 13,000 tickets remained unsold.

When I was growing up in Florida, hurricanes meant some wind and some rain, but rarely did they mean widespread flooding that lasted for days. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, building codes were enhanced to provide better protection against the wind.

Unlike in Texas, where they seem to build their house out of sticks and straw, most modern homes in Florida are constructed using cinder blocks with straps tying the roof to the walls.

Of course, building a structure to survive Category 5 winds does nothing to protect it when the agent of destruction is multiple feet of water brought about by storm surge and freshwater flooding from torrential amounts of rain.

While the climate change deniers can stick their heads in the sand and scream, “fake storm” all they want, recent years have shown that today’s hurricanes are different from our grandparents’ storms. Ignoring them is not going to make them go away.

Hurricane Ian is expected to be declared the biggest natural disaster in Florida history. That is saying quite a lot, since there have been many disastrous storms to hit the Sunshine State.

As Hurricane Ian trained its wrath on the southwest coast of Florida, one of my initial thoughts was, “oh no, there are so many ballparks in the path of the storm I hope they survive.”

Charlotte Sports Park, the Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Rays is just one of the many ballparks that were in the cross hairs of Hurricane Ian.
Photo R. Anderson

While it is certainly true that a bulk of the Grapefruit League Spring Training ballparks stretch from Clearwater to Fort Myers, I am somewhat ashamed that my first thought of seeing the storm heading towards the west coast of Florida was I hope the ballparks make it.

My grandparents used to live on Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach. I would hope that if they were still alive, my reaction to the approaching storm would have been concern for their safety and not for the safety of some empty ballparks.

At the time of this writing, I am not aware of any damage to the ballparks along the path of the storm. However, I am confident that if any of the ballparks were damaged, the teams and cities impacted will move heaven and earth to ensure that they are up and running come February. After all, the games must go on.

That is part of my growing struggle with the sport business. Even when Spring Training rolls around in four months, many of the people who work in those ballparks from the ticket takers to the concession stand workers likely will still be dealing with some impacts from Hurricane Ian.

While I would hope that the Major League Baseball teams that employ those seasonal workers will have some sort of assistance plan in place, I can see a scenario where impacted workers are left to fend for themselves.

Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, a great deal was made about the calming effect the return of baseball had on the country. President George W. Bush famously went to Yankee Stadium and threw out the first pitch declaring that it was okay to play ball while the nation was still in mourning.

I don’t dispute the fact that sports can be a good diversion.

My issue is when the diversion becomes the main focus and other issues are ignored.

To be fair, most of the country was not impacted by Hurricane Ian so people might think, “why should they miss out on getting to watch sports, if their homes didn’t blow away or flood?”

That sort of narrow minded approach is part of the problem that seems ripe to tear society apart.

There will be other “Storms of the Century” in the coming years. Of that, I am sure.

What I am not as sure about is whether people will take the necessary steps to be better prepared and try to lessen the impacts, or if they will just continue to whine about the inconvenience of having their sporting event delayed by a few days.

There are no easy answers. The more time I spend working in sports, the more disenchanted I become with the priorities some leagues seem to have of putting profits over people.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to reread some chapters on sports ethics.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson