LOS ANGELES Fast-food chain Jack in the Box has pulled toys from its kids' meals, a spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday.
The move, which managers at Los Angeles outlets said took effect on Thursday, comes as fast-food companies are under pressure to stop using toys to market children's meals that are high in calories, sugar, fat and salt.
Lawmakers in San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County have passed laws that will require kids' meals to meet certain nutritional standards before they can be sold with toys.
"While we've been aware of efforts to ban the inclusion of toys in kids' meals, that did not drive our decision," Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb said.
"Our advertising and promotions have focused exclusively on the frequent fast-food customer, not children," added Randy Carmical, also a Jack in the Box spokesman.
Carmical said the San Diego-based company has been more focused on the food in its meals for children, such as grilled cheese sandwiches or grilled chicken strips. The company pulled toys from the meals when it began offering parents the option of substituting sliced apples with caramel sauce as an alternative to French fries, he said.
"We believe that providing these kinds of options is more appealing to a parent than packaging a toy with lower-quality fare," Carmical said.
The Jack in the Box decision won praise from organizations and advocates critical of the fast-food industry.
"It's terrific that Jack in the Box has taken this step," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's really a monumental step that I hope their competitors will emulate."
CSPI in December sued McDonald's Corp, the world's largest hamburger chain, to stop it from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants.
Consumer and health advocates are using the announcement to put pressure on McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and other fast food chains that still include toys in kids' meals.
Lobbyists for fast-food companies are fighting anti-obesity laws by asking U.S. state legislators to remove restaurant marketing from local governments' regulatory menu.
Toy giveaways make up more than half of the marketing expenditures in the fast-food industry, according to Wootan, with $360 million spent annually to put toys in kids meals.
Jack in the Box has about 2,200 restaurants across the United States, where it is the fifth-largest hamburger chain.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Gary Hill)