By: Rafael Tonon
Fast food is going fresh but can end up slower and more expensive
The fast food industry is really changing. Faster than one could predict
It has been more than 60 years since the assembly-line system of food preparation we associate with modern fast food restaurants first showed up. Inspired by the efficiency of producing a specific number of menu items with focus on quality, McDonald’s revolutionized how we used to eat.
The main idea was to make hamburguers good – and fast! All the processes of assembling a hamburguer had to be done in as little time as possible, and every second mattered. Ray Kroc, the controversial enterpreneur behind McDonald’s propagation, became famous for making fast food concept happen all over the US. After him, other chains came out, and fast food caught up around the entire globe.
But the fast food industry as we know it is begining to change. In following up with the new times – when terms like “fresh” matter more than “fast” – the market is popping up with the rise of “improved fast-food chains” that serve quick, but healthy food, a pretty universal move toward healthier living we can’t avoid anymore.
Many chains took a ride in this idea. Companies such as Freshii, created by Matthew Corrin, former marketing manager for fashion business before joining the dining industry, and the vegetarian chain Eatsa, where customers place their orders on iPads and pick up their food from automated cubbies, all prepared with fresh ingredients by humans, are getting to this market. Even celebrity-chefs such as Daniel Patterson and José Andrés decided to jump in (in Locol and Beefsteak, respectively).
At the same time, well known fast food chains noticed that they also had to change, under the risk of being outdated. Some have made major announcements about switching to fresh (versus frozen) food or higher quality ingredients. In the last years, Taco Bell has pledged to cut artificial ingredients and use cage-free eggs, and has introduced a lower-calorie menu. Other chains took other decisions, from removing antibiotics of its chicken to adding a wider offer of organics, for example.
The most significant move was made by McDonald’s, who decided to make its Quarter Pounder hamburguer with fresh beef and billed as hotter and juicer than the original made from a frozen patty. The fresh beef cooked to order is part of the company’s effort to serve tastier and healthier food.
But the fact is that a healthier food can end up being a slower one. That may be the price to be paid. As the grilling begins only after the patron’s order, an on-demand Quarter Pounder takes about a minute longer to land in a customer’s hands than does the former original sandwich – which had its batches cooked ahead of time.
It’s important to point out that every second counts in the fast-food business. That was the major concern from Ray Kroc since the very begining. One second can turn into many minutes when we are talking about huge quantities – which is the reality of these major chains, afterall.
This delay can affect not only the cost to the industry – which invariably will have to pass on these expenses to the consumers –, but it will also change the “fast” concept as we know it. The industry as a whole accounts for billions of dollars in sales worldwide each year. The thing about fast food always was that it’s predicated on the basis that you receive your food as quickly as possible.
As consumers become more conscious about their food (and the need for it to be made with better quality and health standards), fast food is evolving to meet new demands of time, price, and more, which is going to change all the category. To become “fresh” and “healthy”, “fast” will have to be also synonym of “slow” and probably “expensive” to this market. Maybe even the notion of “fast food”will have to change from now on. A change that will happen faster than we can imagine.