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Written by Alison Mooradian   
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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Fast Food Trends

One by one I have noticed national fast food chains shift towards serving healthier options. Why the change of heart? Clearly these companies have been listening to how the national discourse on health, which now focuses more on where food comes from and the nutritional benefits of certain types of foods than counting calories, has changed.1

History of Fast Food

Street Vendori
Street vendors and walk-up restaurants have long been a part of human history, dating back to at least the Roman Empire. However, fast food in its modern form, which draws chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s to mind, originated over the last century in the United States.2

Interestingly, the rise of fast food restaurants in the United States was closely linked to the rise of the automobile.3 In 1921, White Castle, the first fast food restaurant, opened in Wichita, Kansas. White Castle specialized in hamburgers, arguably the food now most associated with fast food. At the time, however, most people considered hamburgers to be undesirable, thinking they were made from slaughterhouse scraps. To improve people’s perception of hamburgers, White Castle decided to set up their restaurants so that people could see the food being prepared. They also painted the restaurants white to give the illusion of cleanliness. This marketing approach helped the public trust hamburger meat more.4

Also in the 1920s, an A&W Root Beer shop created a novel method of serving food called “curb service.” Curb service, in which the employees delivered food to customers sitting outside the restaurant in their cars, was an instant success and spread around the country. By the 1940s, curb service employees even wore rollerblades to speed up their delivery service.5

Richard and Maurice McDonald, originally from New Hampshire, moved to Los Angeles hoping to make it big in Hollywood. When that dream didn’t pan out, they opened at small drive-in barbeque restaurant in 1940. However, after several years they noticed that 80% of their sales actually came from hamburgers. To keep up with growing drive-in competition post-World War II, the brothers decided to rebrand their restaurant to be one where customers ordered at a window. They also decreased their menu from 25 items to just nine and got rid of their silverware and plates in favor of paper wrapping and paper cups. Lastly, they took a page out of Henry Ford’s book by adopting an assembly line procedure for preparing food. From there, profits took off.6

First Mcdonladsii

Fast Food Today

McDonald’s set the model for speed and low prices that drove the national fast food industry. However, this model also cut corners on health, something consumers are starting to care more about. In 2015, Steve Easterbrook became the CEO of McDonald’s. To address the drop in domestic sales, one of the first actions he took was to remove high fructose corn syrup from the hamburger buns and artificial preservatives from the Chicken McNuggets. These changes were also in response to the fact that Starbucks may soon overtake McDonald’s as the most valuable restaurant chain in the world.7

Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greensiii
Starbucks, by changing their snacks seasonally, has been able to test out many new healthy snack ideas. Deb Hannah, director of retail brand partnerships at Starbucks, shared, “We know customers are snacking on the go and looking for snacks that are healthier. We all love the opportunity to try something new and unique, like Kale chips, but we might be more open to reach for something outside of our comfort zone like a ranch-flavored kale chip that has a culinary twist.”8

Other fast food companies are making similar health-driven changes. Chipotle recently changed the recipe of its flour tortillas to be made with only five ingredients: flour, water, salt, oil, and yeast. Previously, the flour tortillas contained chemical preservatives to increase their shelf-life. Chipotle also announced that they will not be using any GMO ingredients .9

By the end of 2017, Subway pledged to remove all artificial ingredients from its food, of which there are more artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives than you would expect from salads and sandwiches. For instance, their banana peppers are bright yellow due to the additive Yellow No. 5, while the golden color of their baked loafs of bread was thanks to caramel coloring, which contains azodicarbonamide.10

In a similar vein, Panera Bread removed artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, and preservatives from its menu offerings, as well as trans fat . Panera also now purchases its chicken, turkey, sausage, and ham from suppliers that do not use antibiotics .11

Let’s hope that this health trend continues in our mass food industry

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Last Updated ( Monday, 12 February 2018 )