Healthy Items Will Never Dominate Fast-Food Landscape

LOS ANGELES , June 5, 2013 () – When customers visit a fast-food restaurant, they’re looking to buy junk food. OK, it’s not that black and white, but it’s pretty close. The reality is that quick-service chains can add all the healthy items they want, but in the end their sales will be based on the bad-for-you items.

Recent comments made by McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson illustrate this point. Speaking at an investor conference on May 29, Thompson pointed out that while items from the company’s Dollar Menu make up to 14% of its sales, salads make up no more than 3%. As a result, he said, McDonald’s may make a bigger push toward its hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, emphasize its salads less, and look to include more lettuce, tomatoes and onions by adding them to its more-sellable items.

If this is surprising to you, it shouldn’t be. Consumers don’t go to McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s to count calories. They go to indulge themselves. They go to reward themselves. They go to comfort themselves. Whatever the reason, it leads to burgers and fries, not salads and whole-wheat buns.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for healthy items on fast-food menus. It gives consumers more options; it targets what I call the multi-group dynamic (which is a group of people that in sum will desire both healthy and non-healthy items); and most importantly, it gives these companies a defense against any criticism as to the fat and calorie counts of their unhealthy items.

But despite the rising obesity epidemic around the world and despite the brighter spotlight on calorie counts, healthy items are not going to dominate consumers’ fast-food tastes anytime soon.

They’ll come for the burgers. They’ll stay for the fries.

Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage Analyst for IndustryIntel. He visits fast-food restaurants on a weekly basis but can count on two hands the number of times he’s ordered a salad at one of these places. He can be reached at

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