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Burger King's Satisfries 'Failure' An Important Inroad Into Healthier Fast Food Options

LOS ANGELES, August 20, 2014 () – Is it right to call the fast food industry’s latest attempt at a healthier menu item—Burger King’s Satisfries—a failure? It depends on how you look at it.

On one hand, yes it was a failure. The fries, introduced last fall as a regular fry alternative with 30% fewer calories and 40% less fat, didn’t sell well (it probably didn’t help that healthier fries cost more than the regular version), causing Burger King to remove the product at two-thirds of its U.S. and Canadian stores. On the other hand, Satisfries will remain a permanent menu item at 2,500 locations, a sign that the burger chain did make an important inroad into healthier fast food.

Why is it an important inroad? Because if the fast food industry wants to survive long term, it’s going to have to find a way to make significant money with healthier options. Millennials have changed the landscape. They’re the next big source of revenue for the restaurant industry in general, and they’re not sold on the idea of eating Big Macs and onion rings every day. There’s a major battle for millennial money between fast food and fast casual, and right now fast casual is winning.

For example:

• Chipotle’s recent quarterly earnings were up nearly 26% year-over-year, showing that there continues to be a market for healthier-than-average convenient food for higher-than-average prices.

• Earlier this month Veggie Grill--a vegan chain with 25 stores on the West Coast that serve nachos and Buffalo wings made with meat substitutes--showed up at No. 7 on Restaurant Business Magazine’s annual list of the 50 fastest-growing small chain restaurants in the U.S.

• No. 10 on that list was Tender Greens, which offers farmer's market-inspired salads, sandwiches and entrees. This fast-casual chain has brought in more than $40 million in revenue last year from just 12 stores; that’s more than $3 million per restaurant—about 25 percent more than at Chipotle and Panera Bread.

There’s clearly a market for healthier, faster food, and it’s only going to grow. Fast food has yet to really penetrate this market, but Satisfries were a step in the right direction. The fast food industry needs to build on it, not go back to square one.

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