Let’s face it: we all love fast food, whether it’s a greasy chain restaurant with golden arches or an independently-owned, vegan, gluten-free food truck.
Fast food is nearly unavoidable, especially since there seems to be a chain restaurant on every corner, often times adjacent to a different chain restaurant. In addition to its convenience, fast food earns a lot of revenue. In 2013 alone, the fast food industry generated approximately 191 billion U.S. dollars, and is forecasted to increase to 210 billion by 2018. In fact, nearly 83 percent of U.S. consumers dine at quick-service restaurants at least once a week.
Obviously, convenient foods aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but fast food’s association with grease-drenched fries and burgers may fade as the industry tries to keep up with the demands of health-conscious consumers, which have increased dramatically in the past 10 years. McDonald’s was ahead of the curve, implementing salads to their menus in 1985, and more recently adding the option to include apple slices to Happy Meals in 2011.
Even Taco Bell revised their menu options in order to catch up with the new demographic of health-conscious eaters, pledging to remove all artificial coloring, flavoring, and, trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, and additives from most menu items by the end of the 2015. Its sister chain, Pizza Hut also announced it would also abandon all artificial flavors and coloring by July of 2015. Panera Bread created a “no-no list” of 150 ingredients they’ll no longer be adding to their foods, and Chipotle, one of the main leaders of claiming to be clean eating vowed to drop genetically modified organisms from its U.S. menus.
Fast food as we know it isn’t going away, but it’s definitely changing, and on a global scale. Consumers want more transparency in the nature of the ingredients they are putting into their bodies, yet they also want quality food that’s freshly prepared and served just as quickly as ever.
The main demanders of health conscious choices? Millennials. Those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s are who most chains look to for feedback. Unlike their baby boomer counterparts, the youngest generation up to the age of 35, are more health conscious ethical eaters.
This demographic was exposed at an early age to more current ways of thinking about healthy food and balanced diets. In schools, they were taught healthy alternatives to potato chips, ice cream, burgers, and candy bars. These lessons must have stuck and are being applied to their adult lives.
Other factors of the eating decisions of the younger demographic is witnessing the effects of fast food over time, seeing that over the years, Fast food wasn’t the only thing getting big. It was the people as well.
After the nationwide awareness of the correlation between fast food and obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other various health issues, people began to gradually decrease their consumption of greasy fast food and migrate their options to places such as Subway, Panera Bread, and Chipotle.
The health conscious wave has always been existent, but recently things marked as “gluten free”, “vegan, “non-GMO”, and other labels that claim less than or no additives are being payed special attention. Less fat, colors, artificial flavors, salt, and unpronounceable chemicals, and unethically raised or unsustainably grown ingredients is now considered good, honest food. Now food is going back to being valued based on its freshness and effect on the body and there is no fear in trying new things from green smoothies, vegan cheeses, gluten free muffins, and a selection of smart foods.
Of course, the gradual change isn’t at bad. After all, if it weren’t for change in the fast food industry there wouldn’t be breakfast options. The industry evolves based on what we want. Now, the fast food industry is making the statement that it isn’t strictly a last resort that serves limited healthy options.
Unlike what has been predicted for the future of fast food, the planet won’t be populated by morbidly obese citizens like Pixar film Wall-E predicts. Instead, maybe it will consist of healthy, smart individuals who are able to consume both time efficiently and healthily. Instead of it meaning the end of fast food as we know it, it’ll signify the beginning of change for modern consumption.
Photo: ebruli, CC BY