Healthy QSR Food Trends

By Bijan Shahrokhi in Quick Service

If you’re reading this post, heck, if you have a pulse, I’m sure that you also have a friend who follows a gluten free diet. Something that was practically unheard of 30 years ago, gluten free products, are now a fast growing section of the grocery aisle. And of course, the request for gluten free food has made its way into QSRs.

America has had a love affair with fitness for decades; it has also had a love affair with Quick Service Restaurants. What we’re witnessing right now is the melding of those two passions into a growing crop of healthy QSR food trends that are slowly transforming the face of quick service restaurants.

Chipotle, the darling QSR of the Millennial generation (currently ages 18 – 33) had another blockbuster quarter, outlined in detail by Seeking Alpha.

Here are the numbers that matter:

“In its latest period, Chipotle’s revenue increased 28.6% to $1.05 billion with the comparable figure rising by a smaller but still important, 17.3%. Despite raising its menu prices in April…”

And MUCH of that success is attributable to Chipotle’s reputation for high quality fast food.

But Chipotle isn’t alone in offering healthy food options, or at least options that are viewed as ‘healthier’ than traditional QSR Fare.  Here are 10 hot trends changing the menu boards for QSRs:

  1. Tea: When Starbucks purchased Teavana  near the end of 2012, Tea lovers throughout the US thought “Finally.” If you are a tea aficionado, you have experienced the limited choices available at most QSRs.  As consumers look for healthier choices, many are opting for the anti-oxidant beverage. Expect this trend to grow.
  2. All natural meat: Organic produce has been a growing segment of the grocery market, and QSRs are following. BurgerFi, a Florida/Georgia based chain witnessed a 250% growth rate, attributing its success to its all natural, grass fed beef.
  3. Gluten Free: You know a trend has grown roots when the big chains invest in it, and when  Domino’s Pizza brought out its Veggie Pizza With Gluten-Free Crust we knew this trend had come into its own. We expect to see gluten free products continue to gain market share.
  4. Frozen Yogurt:  This healthier option to ice cream has been around for decades, but it has witnessed a revival of sorts . Cups Frozen Yogurt, in the NY/NJ market, has seen tremendous growth, and it appears that Frozen Yogurt is turning up all over the US.
  5. Calorie transparency: I don’t know if you can call a trend something that most National QSRs have embraced, but menus regularly showing calorie counts are not going anywhere. Consumers are purchasing more and more meals in the 400 – 600 calorie range from QSRs.
  6. Healthier Breakfast Items: For once, Starbucks is NOT on trend with the introduction of their very high calorie La Boulange breakfast pastries, but many QSRs are giving customers whatn they want: healthy breakfast choices.  Dunkin Donut’s Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap plus hash browns is a low 350 calories. McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin has only 250 calories. Again, when the big chains get into a trend, it has legs.
  7. Meditterrean Inspired Food:  Starbucks Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box is one example of Meditteranean food making its way into QSRs. The fast growing  Little Greek Restaurant chain based in Florida and Texas is another.The Mediterranean diet has been popular for some time, so its appearance in QSRs was expected.
  8. Whole Grains: This trend has been growing for years, and we don’t see it slowing. Panera Bread’s  Half Smoked Turkey Breast on Artisan Whole Grain Loaf plus Low-Fat GardenVegetable with Pesto Soup  comes in at only 320 calories, 6g fat; low calorie, whole grain options are popular and growing.  Subway has gotten into the whole grain movement as well, with their Six-inch Turkey Breast Sandwich on nine-grain wheat bread .
  9. Latin/Southwest Inspired food: Because of its explosive growth, Chipotle is the restaurant everyone talks about, but Baja Fresh Mexican and Moe’s Southwest are chains to watch. McDonald’s  even jumped on the trend with their Premium Southwest Salad.
  10. 10.   Healthy side dish options:  Certain QSRs have always been known as ‘healthier’ than other large chains; Wendy’s salads and low fat chili are examples. When, in September of 2013 McDonalds got into the act offering salads as side options instead of fries, they used a PR mega –giant to explain their motivation. Bill Clinton partnered with the corporation, saying in the company press release “If we want to curb the catastrophic economic and health implications of obesity across the world, we need more companies to follow McDonald’s lead and to step up to the plate and make meaningful changes.”  We’d love to see the data on how many customers are making that choice, but clearly McDonalds offered the option to meet a need.

When you think of the word trend, it is often a vision of fleeting style or something whose popularity will eventually wane. With healthy food, we don’t see it as a trend as much as the beginning of a transformative movement. Of course, Americans love their burgers and fries, and those will never disappear, but something is afoot in regards to healthy eating, and the smart leaders of the QSR industry all already on board.

Photo credit: mawel via photopin cc.

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