One of the most fascinating things about collectibles is how objects are valued against other elements that may look nearly identical to outsiders. For example, I once saw a man pull up in the parking lot of a Kentucky liquor store and put a dozen bottles of bourbon on the tailgate of his unlocked pickup truck. A few minutes later, another man holding a single bottle under each arm met him there. After a few moments of chatter, they exchanged collections.
It’s like trading Pokémon cards, marbles or Beanie Babies. For the right buyer, a Pokemon Japanese Pocket Monsters Venusaur card from 1999 could be worth two Pokemon Japanese Pocket Monsters Blastoise cards from 1999. A special edition Princess Diana Beanie Baby could be redeemed for a set of five Beanie Babies from 1993 – a bear pink, a panda, a koala, a duck in a hat and a goose in a baby blue ribbon.
And for Rowan Quinain Jr., a human resources professional from Chicago, a Hamburglar from the new McDonald’s Adult Happy Meals was worth both his Birdie and Grimace figurines.
“The Hamburglar figurine was exceptionally rare in the Chicagoland area,” he told me via Facebook Messenger after spotting his offer to trade his figurines on the social media platform’s marketplace.
In early October, McDonald’s announced it would be partnering with Cactus Plant Flea Market, the streetwear brand co-signed by celebrities like Travis Scott and Kanye West, to produce the limited-edition Happy Meals with collectible toys. One of four figures – a Grimace, Birdie, Hamburglar or “Cactus Buddy” – would be in each box.
After seeing an ad for the new meal on the McDonald’s app, Quinain Jr. was immediately smitten with the toys.
Adult McDonald’s Happy Meal toy collection for sale (Photo courtesy of Christine Luther)“Honestly, I loved her design,” he said. “I thought it was unique, and it made me really nostalgic for the old Happy Meal toys back then. So I wanted to collect the set for myself.”
But what he didn’t want to do was break into the predictable, if sometimes temperamental, resale market that has developed for McDonald’s collectibles, which encompasses everything from Happy Meal toys to old to discarded sauce packets.
“I really enjoyed these figures for my own collection without any hype behind them. But I know a lot of other dealers just want them because everyone else wants them, and they think the price is going to go up for them” , Quinain Jr. wrote. “Which they did, but only because people artificially inflated prices for no real reason.”
For reference, Adult Happy Meals are $10.79 in North Chicago, which is $2.40 more than the same meal without the toy. The current resale value of figures starts at $20, while complete toy packs sell for around $150 on eBay.
Shane, an Idaho-based Facebook Marketplace seller who asked me to use only his first name for privacy reasons, is currently selling the toys he collected for $30 each. He has three Cactus Buddies, a Grimace, a Birdie and a Hamburglar currently in stock.
“Resale is hot for anything that has a ‘trendy brand’ behind it. I personally don’t buy into it, but I wasn’t going to waste the easy opportunity to cash in on it.”
“I just bought them on a whim thinking the hype would make a lot of weight fighters pay extra for them because of the ‘brand hype,'” he said. “I just went to eBay and checked the going rate. Resale is hot for anything that has a ‘trendy brand’ behind it. I personally don’t buy into that, but I wasn’t going to wasting the easy opportunity to possibly capitalize on that.”
Dealers like Shane are one of the reasons Quinain Jr. chose to trade in his figures in an effort to get the full set; according to him, it is a cheaper and cleaner process. However, Shane isn’t the only one betting that people will continue to pay a premium for these collectibles, at least for now.
Currently, there is such fervor around the collaboration that Ava, a Marketplace seller who also asked me to only use her first name for privacy reasons, only sells the boxes the meals came in. – no toy – for $50. “Years ago I collected Precious Moments and Hummels and Hallmark ornaments,” she wrote via Messenger. “I know how great collectors can be.”
According to Kelly Goldsmith, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing at Vanderbilt University, McDonald’s and Cactus Plant Flea Market have essentially created collectible bait through their “true Russian doll of scarcity marketing tactics.”
“There is a natural relationship between scarcity and nostalgia,” Goldsmith told Salon Food. “Things we long for, like the foods of our childhood, are inherently rare in our lives today – perhaps because our diets are different now, or simply because they are no longer sold.”
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For this reason, Goldsmith said, when we have the opportunity to engage in this rare but special nostalgic consumption, we often jump at the chance.
“McDonald’s first capitalized on this by offering ‘Happy Meals for Adults,’ designed to give today’s adults a chance to recapture some of the magic of a favorite childhood experience,” a- she declared. “However, in an act of marketing genius, McDonald’s went even further. They teamed up with Cactus Plant Flea Market, a modern streetwear brand, to create unique collectible toys that were placed in their Happy Meals for adults. , they capitalized on scarcity in a second way. If you don’t get your adult happy meal now, your chance of getting the collectible toy could be lost for good.
In many ways, the adult Happy Meal craze is reminiscent of when, in 2017, McDonald’s briefly reissued Szechuan Sauce, a limited-run condiment that was offered as part of a promotion for the movie “Mulan from 1998. The sauce had developed something of a delayed cult following after being referenced in an episode of the popular adult animated series “Rick & Morty.”
The relaunch was messy – there wasn’t enough inventory, leading to riots at some McDonald’s locations – but the resale value of the sauce packets was strong. The packages were listed on eBay for $200 each (and there was a report of one package eventually reselling for $14,700).
Adult McDonald’s Happy Meal toy collection for sale (Photo courtesy of Christine Luther)However, as Goldsmith points out, the success of the Adult Happy Meals collaboration shows that this level of consumer interest is not the result of lightning in a bottle. It’s repeatable – and that’s what brands like McDonald’s rely on in these releases.
“Given the effectiveness of scarcity marketing tactics, it’s no surprise that the meals have sold out quickly and the toys are attracting interest in the secondary market – being resold on eBay and the like,” a- she declared.
“Right now, part of me is trying to sell them but also want to keep them for the future when their price could potentially go up.”
Whether they are worth it in the long run for sellers and collectors remains to be seen.
Christine Luther is both a collector and a seller of figurines. Her interest piqued after she received several Grimace toys in her Happy Meals and realized time might be running out to put together a complete set.
As a result, she and her boyfriend spent days canvassing McDonald’s stores in their county for the remaining toys.
“We went to eBay and noticed all the crazy listings for them,” she said. “Right now part of me is trying to sell them but also want to keep them for the future when their price could potentially go up. I really think the resale market is crazy because it’s like a throwback piece of the 1990s.”
“Honestly, it feels like a gamble because Happy Meals raise the price,” she added. “The characters are super cute! McDonald’s really knows what they’re doing with this one.”
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