Taco Bell Ditches Kids' Meals

Taco Bell is discontinuing its kids' meals and toys at its U.S. restaurants, the fast-food chain announced Tuesday in a move applauded by children's health advocates.

The company, based in Irvine, Calif., says it is the first quick service restaurant to discontinue children's meals and toys. The removal begins this month in select restaurants with "nationwide implementation anticipated by January 2014."

"As we continue our journey of being a better, more relevant Taco Bell, kid's meals and toys simply no longer make sense for us to put resources behind," said Greg Creed, chief executive officer of Taco Bell, in a statement. "What does make sense is concentrating on expanding choices that meet and exceed the diverse needs of consumers of all ages, without losing focus on what makes us great today."

The company said its children's meals, which cost on average $2.84, are "not part of Taco Bell's long-term brand strategy and have had an insignificant impact on system sales."

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Taco Bell is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM), which is based in Louisville, Ky. Since Taco Bell introduced the Doritos Locos taco in 2012, the company has seen an explosive expansion.

"Taco Bell will continue to focus on new menu options that provide a broad range of choices and define the brand, such as the Doritos Locos Tacos, the Cantina Bell Menu as well as offering more balanced menu items," the company said.

"Pioneering this change on our menu is a bold move for our industry, and it makes sense for Taco Bell," said Creed. "We'll be able to better focus on creating new and inventive items that our customers love."

RJ Hottovy, analyst with Morningstar, said he was not "entirely surprised" by Taco Bell's announcement, because the company has been focused on millennial customers as family visitations have decreased.

Kids' meals comprised less than half of one percent of sales, as restaurants sold an average of four to five children's meals per day, according to Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for Taco Bell. Poetsch denied that the decision was influenced by children's health advocates.

"It's a smart move and not one with a material impact on results," Hottovy said.

Sara Deon, director of Value [the] Meal Campaign, led by Corporate Accountability International, said she hopes McDonald's follows the example of Taco Bell.

In May, Corporate Accountability International partnered with a 9-year old girl who accused McDonald's CEO of tricking children into eating "junk food."

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"While removing toys and ending kids meals is an important first step, Taco Bell's announcement still leaves the door open for myriad other marketing practices directed at kids that will continue to have a negative impact on children's health," Deon said in a statement.

Taco Bell said menu items on the current Kid's Meals Menu will remain available individually on the regular menu, including the Crunchy Taco, Soft Taco, Bean Burrito and Cheese Roll-up.

Deon said Taco Bell's announcement "comes at a time when the nation struggles with a public health epidemic where one in three children is at risk of developing type-2 diabetes as a result of diets high in junk food. Yet the fast food industry, driven by industry leader McDonald's, spends hundreds of millions each year marketing directly to children, posing a significant threat to children's health."

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(Credit: Taco Bell)