Expanding better-for-you (BFY) side options is one of fast food’s first attempts to please nutrition-
conscious consumers. Some 41% indicate they want more healthy sides at QSRs, Bryant says.
But the question has always been, if the restaurant complies with consumer desires and offers
healthful food, will consumers buy it. Mintel data shows that 27% of consumers report replacing
unhealthy sides with healthy sides when they dine out.
Ratcheting up the BFY quotient of its food has paid off for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A. Since
switching up the quality of its entree salads in spring 2013, the chain of 2,000-plus units has
seen about 50% sales growth in the salad category, says David Farmer, vice president of menu
strategy and development.
He believes side items present the next big opportunity for fast-food restaurants. “The side
category is all about fries,” he says. The chicken chain was one of the first quick-serve restaurants
to offer fruit cups as a side 10 years ago. In January, it launched the Superfood Side made with a
blend of chopped kale and Broccolini tossed in a maple vinaigrette dressing, topped with dried
sour cherries, and served with a blend of roasted walnuts, almonds and pecans for crunch.
“Plant-forward cuisine is one of the hot tickets right now from the menu point of view,”
Kruse says, citing the success of by CHLOE, a New York vegan fast-food restaurant operating
with the tagline, “Eat well. Eat with purpose.” By CHLOE is the first quick-serve restaurant
owned by ESquared Hospitality, New York, and it is expanding, with four units open already.
Says by CHLOE’s creative director Samantha Wasser, “I think everyone wants to be healthy,
but doesn’t want to eat healthy food. We’ve been successful with healthy food that doesn’t taste that
way. You feel you’re indulging here.” The Guac Burger ($9.95) and Quinoa Taco Salad ($10.95) are
the restaurant’s top sellers. The burger patty comprises black beans, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
Wasser acknowledges that healthful ingredients can make fast food less economical for value-conscious consumers. But keeping the food affordable is the team’s priority, with the strategy of
cross-utilizing ingredients such as avocados. The green favorite is found in The Guac Burger, two
salads, the Smashed Avocado Toast and the Avocado Pesto Pasta.
bowls hold it all
The rising popularity of bowls of all types presents a trendy option for quick-serve restaurants
to combine healthful ingredients in an entree. It’s something Chick-fil-A is just now wrapping its
arms around. In September, the chain began testing its Harvest Kale & Grain Bowl featuring a
blend of red quinoa, white quinoa, farro, roasted butternut squash and diced apples on a bed of
chopped kale. It comes topped with a goat cheese/feta cheese blend and tart dried cherries served
with roasted walnuts, almonds and pecans, and new light balsamic vinaigrette. It contains 370
calories and 22 grams of protein, with a starting price of $8.19. Sliced grilled chicken can be added.
Farmer notes that it is a little heartier than some salads and utilizes kale that the restaurants
already bring in. “It’s the kind of premium item that I think people will be pleasantly surprised—
even shocked—to be able to get this quality at a reasonable price point in a quick-serve setting,” he
says. “The quality and speed of the drive-through is a powerful combination. You can make eating
that healthy, that convenient.”
Bowls have become a mainstay on the menu at Juice It Up, which was founded in 1995 as a
smoothie chain. In 2011 it shifted to become more of a raw juice bar, says Noah Burgess, research
and development scientist. “Since then, we have evolved to be more healthy and involve raw fruits
and vegetable options catering to all levels of health.”
More than three years ago, the chain added the Acai Bowl to the menu. Now, under the heading
of Superfruit Bowls, it also offers the Ultimate Berry Bowl, Pitaya Passion Bowl and Super Fusion
RESTAURANT REACH quick-serve gets healthy
Chick-fil-A’s nutrition journey includes
obvious menu improvements along
with a few “stealth health” initiatives
designed to boost nutritive quality
without a lot of fanfare.
2004: First in industry to add fresh
fruit cup to menu
2008: Removed all trans-fat from menu
2010: Removed high-fructose corn
syrup (HFCS) from select menu items
2012: Added grilled nuggets entree
option to Kid’s Meal and removed soda
from Kid’s Meal menu options
2013: Reduced sodium across menu
and removed sodium and Yellow #5
from chicken soup
2014: Switched to peanut oil and canola
oil without TBHQ (a type of phenol)
2015: Removed artificial colors and
HFCS from dressings and sauces and
removed TBHQ artificial color and
flavor from butter oil
2016: Added Superfood Side to menu
and added Honest Kids Appley Ever
After organic juice drink