Guest writer Michele Simon is a public health lawyer who has been researching and writing about the food industry and food politics since 1996. Visit her site atwww.EatDrinkPolitics.com

A few weeks ago, USA Today announced: “Taco Bell will shock the fast-food industry on Tuesday by announcing plans to drop kids meals and toys at all of its U.S. restaurants.” CEO Greg Creed told the paper: “The future of Taco Bell is not about kids meals. This is about positioning the brand for Millennials.”

Some were skeptical about the announcement, given that kids’ meals only represent half of one percent of Taco Bell’s overall sales. While increasing pressure on the fast food industry to stop marketing to children wasn’t the main reason for the change, it’s still a significant development.

That a large fast food company thought it could gain a public relations boost by showing off what amounted to a failed business strategy is a sure sign of success by children’s health advocates. Restaurant executives have heard the message loud and clear: Marketing junk food to children is a scourge on their industry and any move that distances your company from such negative PR is a good thing.

The move also leaves McDonald’s increasingly isolated in its steadfast refusal to change its ways. Taco Bell is not in fact the first or only company to abandon children as a target market. In 2011, Jack in the Box announced it was pulling toys from its kids’ meals, explaining to Reuters: “Our advertising and promotions have focused exclusively on the frequent fast-food customer, not children.”

And this recent article from NBC News describes how, as fast food “grows up,” more chains are retiring old-fashioned, child-oriented mascots and themes for a more modern marketing approach. The article cites childhood obesity concerns as playing “a significant role” in this decision making. Also, mascots such as Ronald McDonald just don’t fit the modern world, particularly as more upscale food chains gain popularity. The article explains:

Analysts say it is part of a broader trend of fast food chains abandoning the mascots that once defined them. As they embrace a healthier, more upscale image, cartoons and kitsch don’t have the selling power they once did.

It seems that McDonald’s has not quite gotten this memo, remaining committed to its kid-marketing practices and allegiance to its mascot Ronald McDonald, despite signs that the fast food leader may be losing its relevance.

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