Woman Who Invented McDonald's Happy Meal Dies at 87

A Guatemalan businesswoman who is considered to be the inventor of the McDonald's Happy Meal died on September 6 at the age of 87, after spending much of her life with the company.

Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño and her husband, José María Cofiño, purchased the first McDonald's franchise in Guatemala in 1974 and she continued to run it until handing the franchise over to her children in 2018.

Fernández de Cofiño is credited with inventing the Happy Meal in the 1970s when she had the idea to create a meal specifically designed to help parents feed their children more easily.

She was born in Chile in 1934 but moved to Guatemala in 1956 when her father was appointed ambassador to the country.

Known affectionately as Doña Yoly, she created the concept for a special meal for children soon after purchasing the country's first McDonald's franchise in 1974.

McDonald's Guatemala issued a statement about her passing on its social media pages on Tuesday.

"McDonald's Guatemala deeply regrets the sensitive death of its president, Mrs. Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño," the company said. "This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult and sad moments for the family, the company and its thousands of collaborators in Guatemala."

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— McDonald’s Guatemala (@McGuate) September 7, 2021

When she noticed that portions on the McDonald's menu could be too large for children, Fernández de Cofiño began to offer a meal with smaller portions more suitable for children, calling it the "Ronald Menu."

That meal included a hamburger, small fries and a sundae, all in a bag, making it easier for parents to buy their children a meal without spending too much time examining the restaurant's menu.

The "Ronald Menu" proved successful and soon McDonald's management in Chicago took notice. The company asked Bob Bernstein, founder and CEO of the marketing agency Bernstein-Rein, to develop the concept.

The Happy Meal was rolled out throughout the U.S. in 1979 and the product contained more options—such as a cheeseburger or hamburger—and included the toy which is now the most famous part of the kids' meal. The meal also came in a colorful and entertaining box, which remains the case today.

Though Bernstein is often considered the creator of the Happy Meal, the original concept was Fernández de Cofiño's and the company presented her with a "Ronald Award" in 1982 for creating the Ronald Menu.

However, the Happy Meal was not Fernández de Cofiño's only contribution to McDonald's. She also originated the concept of having children's parties in the restaurants and was given a Ronald Award in 1980 for the idea. She went on to receive the "Golden Arches" award, which is the highest award McDonald's gives, as well as other national and international awards.

A McDonald's Happy Meal Pictured in California
A photo illustration of a Happy Meal at McDonald's on November 3, 2010 in San Francisco, California. The woman credited with creating the first Happy Meals died on Monday. David Paul Morris/Getty Images