Taco Bell will eliminate kids’ meals and toys at all U.S. restaurants beginning this month.

In a statement released Monday, Taco Bell chief executive Greg Creed said kids’ meals are not part of the Irvine, Calif.-based chain’s long-term brand strategy and have an insignificant impact on sales.

“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,” Creed said. “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.”

Taco Bell said the removal of kids’ meals will begin this month, and the effort will be complete systemwide by January 2014.

Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for Taco Bell, noted that the items found in the chain’s kids’ meals, such as the crunchy beef taco and bean burrito, are still on the menu, though the prices will be slightly higher as an a la carte option. “It really gives people more flexibility,” he said.

More importantly, the move away from specifically packaged kids’ meals is more to focus on the brand’s target audience of Millennials — particularly young males ages 18 to 35. “It really is about making sense for the overall business objectives for the brand,” said Poetsch. “We have more of an appeal to Millennials and kids’ meals didn’t really fit into that brand construct.”

Kids’ meals also weren’t a big seller for the chain. They accounted for less than a half of 1 percent of sales, with restaurants selling an average of about four to five kids’ meals per day, he said.

Market research firm The NPD Group found last year that national sales of kids’ meals declined in 2011, in part because families weren’t visiting restaurants as often overall. For the year ended in December 2011, restaurant visits that included the purchase of a kids’ meal with a toy declined 6 percent compared with the previous year. Orders of regular kids’ menus also fell 1 percent, and visits including the purchase of an older-kids’ meal decreased 16 percent.

At the same time, the number of restaurant visits by parties with children overall also declined to 19.5 billion, compared with 21 billion in 2006.

Still, the National Restaurant Association predicted in its culinary trend forecast for 2013 that more healthful kids’ meals would be a hot opportunity for the industry. Since June 2011, 135 restaurant brands have partnered with the NRA’s Kids LiveWell initiative designed to call attention to more healthful menu options for children.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Jamba Juice launched a new kids’ menu this year with fruit- and vegetable-based smoothies and stuffed pretzels, for example. The fast-casual pizza chain PizzaRev, based in Los Angeles, also announced last week a new smaller “kid-sized” cheese or pepperoni pizza, served with applesauce and Oreo cookies. And in 2011, Jack in the Box pulled the toys from its kids’ meals and began offering more healthful options, such as apple slices in place of fries.

Several other national chains have also added new kids’ meal programs in recent months, including Taco Bell’s sister brand KFC, which launched the Li’l Buckets kids meal in March. The meal comes with a grilled chicken drumstick, green beans, an applesauce pouch and Capri Sun Roarin’ Water, though options can be customized.

In recent years, the nearly 6,000-unit Taco Bell has been focused on growth of the Doritos Locos Tacos platform, introduced last year, as well as the new fast-casual-like Cantina Bell menu. Together, the new offerings have boosted the quick-service chain’s sales significantly. For the second quarter ended June 15, Taco Bell’s same-store sales rose 2 percent, lapping a 13-percent increase a year ago.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout