MILLENNIALS DRIVE MENUS IN FAST CASUAL RESTAURANTS…. These Newer Concepts must not only live up to the marketing message but also ensure that their operations can provide consistent, quality products in every location…. Their business models must be replicable and easily managed.
By FranchiseMoneyMaker Contributor
As recently as 15 years ago the idea that you could grab a nutritious, healthy and still tasty meal from a drive-thru or fast food restaurant was unheard of. It wasn’t until the post Y2K era that fast food consumers became concerned with what they ate. As the Millennial generation started spending money on food outside the home the industry has been “forced” to move toward healthier, high-quality menu alternatives. Once begun this movement toward fresher, greener menus has continued to accelerate at an ever increased pace.
Does Better for You equal Better for Business
Consumer attitudes regarding the link between diet and health have shifted. Data shows that Millennials and aging baby boomers are taking a more proactive approach to healthy eating. Many have adjusted their dietary choices to promote better health. The demographic with higher levels of education and more disposable income is at the forefront of this trend. These health-conscious consumers take the time to research before they dine out. In addition, they seem more willing to pay higher prices to ensure that what goes into their bodies is nutritious.
With this new consumer focus on nutrition, sustainability and ‘clean food’ comes a revolution in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry. According to a recent article in Business Leader, 83% of Americans believe that fast food from traditional Quick Service franchises is not healthy. This has created the rise of the ‘better for you’ brands that now compete with fast food giants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. For example, healthy quick service brands such as Dig Inn, By Chloe, and Sweetgreen are creating their own niche by specializing in organic, locally sourced meal options that contain more vegetables and fewer calories than traditional burgers and fries.
Quality comes with a Cost
As enticing as these food offerings may be to our palate Consumers may find themselves paying almost double what they would at a traditional fast food location. Locally sourced, organic and sustainable food suppliers still see this segment as small compared to conventionally processed ingredients, so access and availability remain a challenge. As a result, many healthier focused chains are developing altogether new selling propositions by positioning “value with reasons” as a way to compete with the traditional fast food chains of the industry. These “better for you” concepts post nutritional information, health benefits as well as the sourcing and methods used in their products. The emphasis is on local, clean, humanely raised and organic.
One such concept is Salad and Go. Branded as a healthy drive-thru option, Salad and Go offers large salads, smoothies, soup and breakfast with an “Always Organic” list of ingredients. In addition, the brand highlights their competitive prices. Salad and Go currently has in 10 locations in the U.S. with plans to nearly double that number by the end of 2018.
Another U.S. chain, LocoL, offers food made only from local ingredients. Founders & Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson claim “We at LocoL want to live in a world where eating healthy doesn’t take a lot of money or time.”
New quick service food concepts like these are branding their menu items as healthy, high quality alternatives to the sugar, fat, and salt-heavy meals provided by traditional fast food franchises. Recently developed QSR concepts give consumers a choice. Whether it’s organic, farm to table, all natural, gluten free, vegan or humanely raised, the race to innovate and meet this rising consumer trend has never been more of a priority in the Quick Service Restaurant segment than it is today.
Forcing Innovation in Traditional Brands
As new brands continue to make their mark in the minds of U.S. consumers, established brands are attempting to keep up with changing demands. Fast food chains such as Taco Bell have promised to use cage-free eggs and reduce artificial ingredients, and McDonald’s has started selling antibiotic free chicken, and now cooks many of its items to order and offers more salads. It is yet to be seen if that alone will be enough to keep the long-standing leaders in the QSR industry on top.
Serving up Quality, Quickly and Consistently
These QSR pioneers are faced with the challenge of living up to the expectations of an informed, proactive consumer. These newer concepts must not only live up to the marketing message but also ensure that their operations can provide consistent, quality products in every location. Their business models must be replicable and easily managed. This may also prove to be a challenge when food is being prepared to order using fresh locally sourced ingredients instead of processed or precooked menu items. If they can accomplish these tasks, the potential for growth is unlimited.
Regardless of the challenges facing these new “better for you brands”, the move away from traditional fast food to healthier quick service food options is unstoppable. As a means to address consumer concerns, in late 2017, the FDA announced new regulations requiring large restaurant chains to add calorie counts to their menus by 2018. This, combined with health-conscious consumers, will continue to push these new QSR chains to sharpen their competitive edge by offering a wider variety of great tasting, healthier options. As I see it, the success of the “better for you” fast casual concepts will depend on their adaptability to trends, consistency in product, as well as the price point and expense management.