McDonald’s new adult Happy Meals appear to be a hit — so much so that demand is weighing on employees in ways that bring to mind past promotions run awry.
A report in Kotaku pointed to an outpouring of posts on sites like TikTok and Reddit from staff at the fast food chain who have been overwhelmed by customers rushing to get in on the limited-time deal, which is part of a collaboration with cult streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market. Some diners are reportedly placing large orders of the nostalgia-themed boxes that come with a combo meal of either a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets and one of four toys.
Part of the appeal of the offering is its limited availability, which could help explain a consumer frenzy. Cactus Plant Flea Market is an under-the-radar label with cultural cache thanks to prior work with companies like Nike and artists including Kanye West and Travis Scott, and might reach a crowd of hypebeast enthusiasts outside of McDonald’s usual wheelhouse.
“We had a feeling the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box would be big… and leading up to the launch, we prepped crew with training and resources in anticipation of higher traffic in restaurants,” McDonald’s USA said in an emailed statement shared via a spokesperson. “After just a few days, the excitement we’re seeing from fans has been nothing short of incredible. Our restaurant crew members are the best in the business, and we appreciate everything they’re doing to serve customers during this limited-time promotion.”
The McDonald’s tie-up evokes fond childhood memories of Happy Meals, with collectible figurines reimagining mascots Grimace, the Hamburglar and Birdie and introducing a new Cactus Buddy character. Sites like Poshmark and eBay already have dozens of listings of the toys at markup prices, pointing to a potentially rich resale market. Cactus Plant Flea Market developed other products for McDonald’s, including co-branded T-shirts that are fetching similar secondhand interest.
McDonald’s is pushing the adult Happy Heals with a trippy new commercial that envisions McDonaldland through a Cactus Plant Flea Market lens, ensuring the partnership reaches a wide audience. The ad was developed with agency Wieden + Kennedy NYC.
The chain is also rewarding people who order the Happy Meal through its app by automatically entering them for the chance to win free weekly merchandise. That could help explain some of the burden felt by employees, who have previously expressed frustration trying to manage both in-store and mobile orders that surge around deal and discount windows. Many restaurants continue to contend with staffing issues in a tight labor market as well.
McDonald’s is in familiar territory. A 2017 effort with “Rick and Morty” reintroduced Szechuan Sauce to the menu after the condiment was referenced on the animated comedy series. Fans turned out in droves to get a taste, but supply fell short of surging demand, leading to outrage among the show’s prickly audience. McDonald’s took the controversy in stride and brought back Szechuan Sauce earlier this year as an app exclusive, sans any “Rick and Morty” connection.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment McDonald's USA sent to Marketing Dive after publication.