McDonald's creates the adult Happy Meal with Cactus Plant Flea Market

Collab of the Week breaks down how the fast food partnership is creating a new online store, and tapping into nostalgia.

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McDonald’s is boxing up an apparel collab and nostalgia with a new adult Happy Meal that is dropping this week.

The news: McDonald’s is the latest food-centered business to enter a buzzy fashion collab with a new version of the Happy Meal. The iconic fast food restaurant teamed with the streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market to create a limited release of the kids’ meal that is designed for adults, and, more specifically, their memory of ordering a Happy Meal. It launched October 3.

What’s in it? Called the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box, it includes a box that has been redesigned in that brand’s style, while keeping the Golden Arches in place. When it comes to food, customers can choose from a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets, and of course there are fries. Being a Happy Meal, it also includes a toy. McDonald’s said you’ll either get the classic McDonald’s characters Grimace, the Hamburglar or Birdie, or a new toy called Cactus Buddy that was made specifically for this box. In a new twist, they all have four eyes.

Digital drop: McDonald’s is moving in a more omnichannel direction these days, with delivery and app-based ordering joining walk-in and drive-thru service. For the launch, McDonald’s is looking to incentivize digital ordering. Customers who order via app will be entered to win Cactus Plant Flea Market x McDonald's merch “for free every week.” Items include T-shirts, a Grimace chair and more. It is also making more apparel available for a limited time via a dedicated store, which features products like the All Beef hoodie for $150.

Key quote: "We're taking one of the most nostalgic McDonald's experiences and literally repackaging it in a new way that's hyper-relevant for our adult fans," said Tariq Hassan, McDonald's USA Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer, in a statement.

McDonald's x Cactus Plant Flea Market. (Courtesy photo)

Why it’s interesting: There are a few reasons that this stands out among collabs:

Food x Fashion: As noted, there is category crossover happening here. To be sure, the McDonald’s brand transcends what the company sells, and has become a touchstone of American culture that doesn’t need a Big Mac to be recognizable. It has also worked with plenty of artists, musicians and athletes over the years. But ecommerce has offered an opportunity to take that a step further and offer different products than you would find in a restaurant. In 2019, it launched a merch store called Golden Arches Unlimited. Working with a streetwear brand that created its own line of merch and launching a store around the drop is another step in offering complementary products. In fact, it's the kind of move a fashion brand might make.

Happy Meal as icon: McDonald’s partnership with an apparel brand underscores something about the Happy Meal: It’s a cultural icon that has its own cachet. By packaging up kids-sized menu items in a special box and including a toy, McDonald’s made the Happy Meal a product in and of itself. Kids got their own gift. As an adult, you still order McNuggets, but the Happy Meal is a memory of its own.

Nostalgia in a box: As Hassan’s quote makes clear, one could argue that McDonald’s is not actually selling a boxed meal and toy here. Rather, it is in fact selling nostalgia. The opening of the press release announcing the collab goes right to the point:

Everyone remembers their first Happy Meal as a kid... and the can't-sit-still feeling as you dug in to see what was inside. That little red box could turn a regular Tuesday into the best. day. ever. And now, we're reimagining that experience in a whole new way – this time, for adults.

These are, of course, the same adults who ordered those Happy Meals in red boxes as kids.

To be sure, the collab with an inventive brand gives it style, and lets it explore merch in interesting ways. The novelty of bringing in the Happy Meal also adds to the potential that it will go viral. Hassan’s statement added that it is “another way we're reigniting a new generation's love for our food and the brand," so there must be some signs in the McDonald's data that there is opportunity to add audience.

At its heart, though, this is a move to transport you back in time, and let you open up that toy all over again. With four options, you may even relive the disappointment of not getting the one you hoped for. Here's an interesting experiment for the next focus group: Propose selling the box and toy without anything in it, and see who would still buy.

You can't blame McDonald's and CPFM for tapping into the energy that is out there. Nostalgia is palpable these days. Just look at the outcry after the Choco Taco’s cancellation. Still, it's worth noting that they are executing on that to great effect by going directly for the heartstrings, and pulling out the kid in all of us. It won't be a permanent menu fixture, so get it before it's gone.

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