Fast-food chains have been pulling out all the stops to get “health nuts” to frequent their establishments. McDonald’s came out with a kale salad (that ended up having more fat and calories than a Big Mac), Chick-Fil-A added an organic beverage and a “superfood” salad to its menu, and many chains have been switching to antibiotic-free chicken and cutting preservatives from their offerings. Just one little problem: while they may or may not be converting some people, healthy eaters aren’t taking the bait.
Millions are being poured into health-ifying fast food, but people who have always considered health-food worthless haven’t changed their minds.
McDonald’s is in a healthy food frenzy, and kale salads represent just a piece of the major changes the company has been making. Its chicken nuggets are now free of artificial preservatives, and it plans on removing high-fructose corn syrup from its buns. All of its poultry is antibiotic-free, and McDonald’s has pledged that all of its eggs will be sourced from cage-free chickens by 2025.
Last month, the popular pizza-maker Papa John’s said that it had removed 14 “unwanted ingredients,” including vanillin, caramel color, and maltodextrin, a white powder typically used for thickening or preserving foods.
Papa John’s will pump $100 million a year, 6% of its annual revenue, into sprucing up its food.
But are fast-food companies losing more money than they’re investing?
McDonald’s has said that only 2 to 3% of its sales are from its once heavily-promoted salads, and Wendy’s hasn’t offered salad bars in its restaurants since 2006.
The truth of the matter is, most people who go to fast-food restaurants aren’t there to buy healthy food.
W. Douglas Evans, professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University, said:
“Most of the people at McDonald’s aren’t there to get a salad. It’s probably going to follow the same pattern.”
Some of the restaurants aren’t even trying. Burger King saw more growth than McDonald’s last year after introducing its Cheetos-flavored chicken fries.
On the other hand “fast-casual” restaurants like Panera Bread Co. have seen a 12% jump in sales. By comparison, fast-food restaurants have only had a 4.4% increase. Yet it’s the Panera-style restaurants that fast-food establishments are trying to compete with.
And for the few people who actually do order the “healthy” options at fast-food restaurants, it might not be long until they’re paying more for them. Global food prices fell to a seven-year low this year; but if that trend reverses, fast-food eaters will feel it in their wallets.
Michael Halen, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, asked:
“The customer’s got to pay for it. How much will they accept?”