The 4 Unexpected Surprises In McDonald’s Adult Happy Meals

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By: Jenn McMillen |

Posted on November 4, 2022

Forget hair dye and wrinkle cream. The fountain of youth has been tapped by McDonald’s and a popular fashion brand in the form of the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box. And it’s giving some McDonald’s employees gray hair.

By: Jenn McMillen

The limited-edition meal box is a “grownup” version of the Happy Meals McDonald’s target audience enjoyed as kids, complete with prizes and an illustrated box with the golden arches as handles. Meals include a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, fries and a drink.

“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," Tariq Hassan, McDonald’s chief marketing and customer experience officer, said in a press release.

Sure enough, the Cactus Plant Flea Market Boxes, named for the streetwear brand, stirred up hyper enthusiasm. Visits to McDonald’s during the week of Oct. 3, when the boxes were introduced, were up by more than 37% compared with the same week in 2021, Nation’s Restaurant News reported, citing data collector

Out-Of-The-Box Thinking, Long Lines And A Grimace

It’s safe to guess the box’s appeal is due more to the packaging and prizes than to the two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun (or McNuggets). McDonald’s described the adult meal as a reimagined experience of “the little red box” we got as kids. And the box is reimagined, designed in Cactus Plant Flea Market’s signature graphic style. The prizes, too, align with the Cactus Plant’s artistic vibe.

Unexpected demand often leads to unanticipated problems, and the Cactus Plant Flea Market (or CPFM) Box has not escaped them. Within a week of launch, the boxes – priced $9 to $13, depending on the state – sold out in most locations, AllRecipes reported.

Based on news reports, here are some of the fallouts, and suggested solutions.

McSpoiled adults outnumbered youthful employees. Unlike kids who have to nag their parents for a Happy Meal, adults can get their boxed meals whenever they want because they have the money. And some adults went big. One drive-thru order included 10 Happy Meals (plus six chicken McNuggets, because why not?). When one worker begged customers on TikTok to “pls don’t order those McDonald’s happy meals bro I’m begging,” a follower responded, “We’ll order what we want. We’re adults after all.” Happy solution: Quick-serve restaurants have been struggling to find workers as it is. When a big launch is coming, the event could be treated like an upcoming holiday, with temporary workers and added management to reinforce the team.

They literally can’t get over those arches. The Happy Meal boxes have a very basic packaging problem – they are not designed to stack. This apparently isn’t an issue so much for lower-volume kids meals because they don’t require prepackaging to meet demand. But the run for adult Happy Meals has been so intense that at some locations the boxes had to be stockpiled. Adding to the preloading challenge is the meal options are much larger and more complex than those that can be popped into a kids’ Happy Meal box. Happy solution: A typical folding top would be stackable, but would lack the rising aches that contribute to its appeal. A couple of racks on wheels, like bakers use, are an inexpensive way to hold the boxes and wouldn’t take a lot of room.

The toys are on the McMarket. Some customers who got CPFM Happy Meal are placing their prizes – Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie and Cactus Buddy! (exclamation included) – on eBay and other resellers, Today reports. One full set of the toys attracted more than 45 bids before selling for more than $200 on Oct. 11, eight days after launch. The Hamburglar may be comfortable on the “grey” market (where goods are sold outside their authorized channels), but its presence there can tarnish McDonald’s reputation, simply by association. Happy solution: McDonald’s could release the toys on its website for individual purchase at reasonable prices or offer them to members of their free loyalty only. Or it can use the toys to engage customers in other ways – offering them as prizes in app-based games or for positive social media reviews.

There’s a nugget of a loyalty tie-in. Customers who buy the CPFM box on the McDonald’s rewards app are entered into a drawing to win exclusive Cactus Plant Flea Market merchandise. This includes custom t-shirts ($60) and hoodies ($150), through Oct. 30. The merchandise also was available at This is a smart product tie-in, but it also could not keep pace with demand. As of Oct. 15, all merchandise on the McDonald’s site was sold out (although a Grimace Chair was spotted on eBay for $1,400). Happy solution: The giveaway was evidently effective in getting customers to join the McDonald’s rewards program, which in turn provides McDonald’s added insights into customer preferences. It can use this data to prepare for its next big launch or product giveaway.

Closed-Out Boxes? Open, Sesame Seed Bun

McDonald’s gets a biggie thumbs up for tapping into an apparently unmet desire among adults, even if a share of them are opportunists seeking to make a profit off of a four-eyed Grimace. Youth sells, especially our own youth.

McDonald’s probably won’t waste the lessons its adult meal boxes delivered. The consequences of this unanticipated demand, like the consequences of eating too many Big Macs, will likely cause McDonald’s to reconsider the strategy behind its next meal drop.

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I have been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. My wheelhouse includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. My perspective is unique because I have both extensive retail/client and agency/consultant experience.

In 2015 I founded Incendio, a firm that builds and fixes marketing, consumer engagement, loyalty and CRM programs. Incendio is a trusted partner of some of the biggest brands in the U.S., including Chipotle, GNC, PetSmart, NASCAR and Godiva.

Before Incendio, I honed my retail expertise filling executive roles at GameStop, Michaels, Tuesday Morning, Jo-Ann Stores, AT&T and Blockbuster. I’m also an award-winning instructor at Southern Methodist University, where I’m helping train the next generation of business leaders.

I frequently speak at retail and marketing conferences around the world and have been quoted in global news outlets including Forbes, Barron’s, MSN, QSR and CPG Matters.