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Field Trip Notes: Happy Meal Toys
& McCafé

Meet Moms’ Quality Correspondent, Tina Hoxie

Tina Hoxie of Michigan is an education professional. Her 2 boys, ages 5 and 1, are good eaters: “I’m really pleased that my 5-year old loves his veggies, particularly fresh-cooked green beans.”

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Happy Meal Toys

The toy that comes with the Happy Meal is neither incidental nor incremental in the McDonald's world. It is very much part of the chain's family dining concept where the time spent eating with the family is deemed to be an important part of the experience.

The PlayPlace and the toy are all designed to help to enrich that experience. This is what I found out during our visit with The Marketing Store, one of the companies that provides McDonald's with the ideas for Happy Meal toys from drawing board to finished product. Whether the toys are independent concepts or are tied to an upcoming movie, they go through a similar process.

The creative team at The Marketing Store goes through stages of brainstorming and sketching until all the characterization and properties of the toy is solidified. Once these aspects are settled, the characters are created in a rough form made out of cornstarch-like material. Subsequently, these are then made out of wax and resin for show and tell with McDonald's for approval. Several renditions or models are made with variations so the hamburger chain executives can have options to decide on.

But first and foremost, as we moms had anticipated, safety was on top of the list of standards and requirements. No matter how cute or functional a toy concept may be, if it doesn't satisfy safety requirements, McDonald's will nix it.

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So, what are some of the standards for Happy Meal toys aimed at any aged child? Checking against choking hazard is primary. For example, instead of using the government mandated 1.25-inch gauge standard, the Golden Arches requires that Happy Meal toys pass their 1.5-inch gauge standard.

Further, they expect the toys to pass finger catching standards so that any crevice in the toy would not pose a danger to the smallest member of the family. Also, checks are done so no hands would inadvertently get caught in a toy, whether open-palmed or close-fisted. Other standards include ensuring that the toys don't pose grave danger to little ears and noses, and that they don't break into pieces that could be harmful.

Aside from these standards, the toys also go through velocity tests to ensure that no projectiles from a toy or the toy itself would cause great harm if it hits a child. The toys are made to withstand a bite force of 50 pounds, and at least 30 pounds of weight when stood upon. The toys are also subjected to a pulling apart test. Where the toy industry standard requires a toy to withstand 15 pounds of pulling pressure, the toy we witnessed going through the test snapped at its weakest point, well above 15 pounds. Further, test groups of children come through to play with toys so that as many possible scenarios of what different kids do to different toys can be taken into account.

All these standards make for durable and safe toys. And knowing these standards are in place makes me feel better about what my kids get from McDonald's because I know that the possibility of harm from these toys is at a rate as low as it possibly can be. - Tina Hoxie

Field Trip Notes: McCafé

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It’s finally here! After five years of research and development, ensuring sustainability and getting all the proper equipment in place, the McCafé line of coffees finally got the green light to go nationwide. Although I am fortunate to be in Michigan where it was test marketed and been in existence for the last two years, it is really nice to know that now, I can go most anywhere in the United States and be able to purchase McCafé coffees. To date, there are over 11,000 restaurants in the United States which carry McCafé menu items which were nationally rolled out in May.

One of the reasons it took so long in the making was because a whole new set of quality standards had to be arrived at by the hamburger chain in order to satisfy its internal requirements. The coffee industry quality standards were not well defined and all the different export and import laws were quite minimal. Therefore, McDonald’s added several layers of inspection to their processes to ensure that the coffee beans that end up at the restaurants are as good as when they left the fields, and continue to meet the standards set forth.

As part of the Moms’ Quality Correspondents program in the last two years, I have come to expect McDonald’s to require above-industry standards from its suppliers. The McCafé line of beverages was no exception. The team in charge of McCafé had to search for a number of suppliers who had expertise in coffee, as well as the infrastructure to sustain the company’s large chain of restaurants. The chain settled for three suppliers, and taking the lead is Distant Lands Trading Co.

Distant Lands makes sure they do not use herbicides or pesticides in their farms because allowing the coffee plant to fend for itself against bugs makes for a stronger plant, and does not cause imbalance in the ecology. The company also ensures that the water they put into rivers have been properly treated, said Russell Kramer, president of Hacienda La Minita Coffee, the green trading division of Distant Lands.

Upon successfully finding its suppliers, McDonald’s had to come up with the blend that would satisfy the different palates of the East and West Coast of the United States, as well as the Latinos and Hispanics, plus the Asian, and African Americans which comprise the markets that the chain serves.

During this experience, I discovered that not every coffee bean variety is the same, and no two groups of people like the same variety of coffee. In order to satisfy the wide landscape of customers McDonald’s has, they arrived at an espresso coffee blend composed of four different types of coffee beans. The final blend provided the particular aroma, acidity, body, cleanliness and flavor that people from different ethnic backgrounds favored.

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Once the blend was acceptable, the task was to ensure that the flavor can be consistently replicated. This is followed by the requirement of speed, freshness and ease of use in the restaurant level. In order to accomplish this, McDonald’s had to have a machine created, tested and approved. With the touch of a few buttons, just about anybody can create a McCafé specialty coffee. Whether hot or cold, the roasted coffee beans are ground on the spot and delivered with water and the other necessary ingredients to make the kind of coffee a customer orders. One can also add shots of espresso or lessen shots of syrup to their liking.

The McCafé line is a strategic move by McDonald’s to capture part of the huge and fast-growing beverage business. On top of the coffee line, McCafé is poising itself to carry additional beverages in the future, continuing in McDonald’s quest to provide choice for its consumers.

As part of this trip, we revisited with Chef Dan and his team in the test kitchen. Here, we had a chance to take a sneak peak at what is in the works and might possibly end up on the menu in the future. Chef Dan and his team are constantly looking at providing choice to the menu, as well as making use of existing ingredients for new products. While I cannot mention specifics, I can say that the food and drink I tried and tasted were excellent and certainly have potential for further sprucing up the menu offerings of McDonald’s. — Tina Hoxie