The McDonald’s Happy Meal Idea Came From a Guatemalan Woman, Here’s How
The official story from McDonald’s goes something like this: an ad exec named Bob Bernstein pitched the idea of a meal catered to children. Initially, McDonald’s resisted the idea but slowly began implementing it in franchises nationwide until it became the staple of American culture that it is today.
This version of events, however, leaves out a very important detail. That detail is a woman named Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, the inventor of the Happy Meal.
Who is Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño and why don’t we all know about her?
Born in 1934, the Santiago, Chile native moved to Guatemala at 20 years old when her father became a Chilean ambassador to Guatemala. In 1974, she and her husband purchased Guatemala’s first McDonald’s franchise. For her, owning a McDonald’s was no joke.
She attended courses, seminars, and even spent some time at Hamburger University (we’re not kidding, this is a real place) to make her McDonald’s franchise the best it could be. She also spent a lot of time developing her McDonald’s franchise as a family-friendly restaurant.
It’s difficult to think about McDonald’s as a place that needed to emphasize itself as an environment for children. Between the playpens and Happy Meal toys, McDonald’s is one of the few fast-food franchises left that seems to exist expressly for children. But that wasn’t always the case.
Before the Happy Meal, there was the Ronald Meal
To bring in more families, Fernández de Cofiño developed something she called the Ronald Meal. With smaller portion sizes and colorful packaging, the Ronald Meal was a kid’s dream come true. The bigwigs at McDonald’s caught wind of her innovation and asked her to present it at the 1977 World Franchisee Convention.
The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, McDonald’s incorporated some additional elements into Fernández de Cofiño’s idea, including the signature toy that comes with each Happy Meal. But the idea that started it all was all hers.
She became an invaluable member of McDonald’s global reach and even established Guatemala’s Ronald McDonald Foundation. Later, she would play an integral role in establishing Guatemala’s three Ronald McDonald Houses and organized the first McHappy Day in Guatemala, donating all Big Mac profits to the foundation.
Many are only recently learning about Fernández de Cofiño’s contributions
Although articles about her contributions are becoming more common, the dominating narrative more or less erased Fernández de Cofiño’s work for many years. Instead, ad executive Bob Bernstein got the glory. In actuality, McDonald’s came to him with her idea and asked that he expand it into the Happy Meal of today.
Bernstein’s contributions were, of course, invaluable. His idea to add a toy to the meal revolutionized the market. It also created some of the company’s most lucrative collaborations. But none of it would be possible without Fernández de Cofiño’s initial idea.