Quick-service and bang-for-your-buck deals are no longer the name of the game in the fast food industry. Instead, companies have recently begun a shift towards more natural food options in an effort to court health-conscious millennials.
Wednesday brought the latest natural fast food line: Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. stores will start serving “natural” chicken breasts in their sandwiches. The chicken will not have additives or artificial preservatives, and will join their line of natural turkey burgers and natural beef patties.
But Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are not the only fast-food chain jumping on this wave. McDonald’s is trying fresh (not frozen) hamburger patties in Dallas. Plus, in Portland, Oregon, McDonald’s is rolling out Chicken McNuggets without artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors. The scary part of that is thinking about what was in those McNuggets before the chain made those changes.
The changes come as a result of the changing customer base for fast food companies. Traditionally, the core consumer bracket has been young men aged 18 to 34. This group, however, is becoming increasingly health-conscious. The CEO of Hardee’s notes that this demographic is now "just as interested in all-natural or minimally processed food as the total population.”
Further evidence of this trend is the (now-waning) popularity of Chipotle. The Mexican grill prides itself on serving natural ingredients and no hormones added to its meat.
However, fast food companies’ efforts are not entirely noble. The FDA merely says a food is natural if it “does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
There is no official definition or standard which food must pass to be called natural. As a result, fast food companies can change little to none and market themselves as being healthier. Only time will tell if this is more posturing or the start of actual change.