That Crunchy Taco will no longer come with a side of toy.
Taco Bell announced Tuesday that it is ditching kids' meals and the trinkets that come with them at its U.S. locations. The items will begin to come off menus starting this month, the company says, and should be completely gone by January 2014.
"As we continue our journey of being a better, more relevant Taco Bell, kids' meals and toys simply no longer make sense for us to put resources behind," Greg Creed, chief executive officer of Taco Bell, said in a statement announcing the move.
The decision may be a financial one, but nutrition advocates have been calling on fast food chains to drop the use of toys in menu items aimed at kids for years. Critics have long argued that such toy accompaniments serve as a lure to hook young eaters on food that's often loaded with calories, fat and salt.
A few years ago, the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance banning freebie toys that come with meals that fail to meet nutritional standards set by the city. But as our colleagues at KQED reported, McDonald's found a way around the ban by charging parents 10 cents for the trinkets.
With Tuesday's announcement, Taco Bell becomes the first nationwide chain to voluntarily stop selling kids' meals with toys, though regional chain Jack in the Box nixed the plastic playthings in its meals for children in 2011.
Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was among the advocates who praised Taco Bell's decision.
"We urge 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," Wootan said in a statement.
In 2009, fast food restaurants spent $714 million on marketing to kids, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released last year. A 2008 study from the FTC estimated that the fast food industry sells more than 1.2 billion kids' meals each year.
Saying adios to kids' meals is probably a lot less financially painful for Taco Bell than it would be for McDonald's, whose Happy Meals are rumored to account for about 10 percent of sales, as NPR has reported. By contrast, kids' meals account for just half of 1 percent of Taco Bell's overall sales, according to USA Today.
And as Wootan notes, items that used to be on the Taco Bell kids' meal menu will still be available a la carte on the regular menu.
"Dropping the kids' menu may lead parents to order higher calorie meals off the regular menu, and it's not as if its adult menu is full of health food," she says.