The drive-thru was once a staple for hard-working families trying to find the balance between career and family life. Together, all of America walked this tightrope, balancing families and careers, with the mindset of, “We can have it all!” This was the American Dream. The Golden Arches were a shining beacon of timesaving hope, and the drive-thru became a necessary timesaver for many moms and dads on the go. A few words at the outside menu got them a meal at a reasonable price.
However, no solution is perfect. As this behavior continued, we slowly realized we were developing long-term health issues. A slow-but-steady erosion of a balanced diet is the likely cause for an increase in diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other health problems.
While many people still take advantage of convenient fast food, leaders in the food service industry are realizing that convenience alone is no longer driving sales the way it did in previous generations. New companies have emerged as leaders in the movement for veggie-centric fast food. Sweetgreen is a veggie-centric fast casual restaurant chain with a concept similar to Subway or Chipotle. People are offered a variety of healthy greens and toppings to customize their perfect salad. More recently, the chain has ventured into the warm food market, with offerings such as warm quinoa and rice. By doing this, Sweetgreen hopes to sustain healthy eating no matter what season it is. Another restaurant, by CHLOE., recently opened in Whole Foods Market’s “365” grocery stores. It offers an all-plant-based menu featuring burgers, salads, fries and other traditional fast-food menu items — with a healthy twist — at an affordable price.
Traditional fast-food staples, like Panera, are finding new ways to balance their plates and let the vegetables shine. The focus is an emphasis on quality and abundance of vegetables versus meat. Some fast-food companies, such as Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s, are working to replace iceberg lettuce with more nutritious vegetables, like kale and broccolini. These brands are promoting new, healthier dishes to bring the health-conscious consumer back to the drive-thru window. Taco Bell is taking a different approach to healthier menu items. Instead of specifically creating them, Taco Bell allows consumers to customize or “hack” their entire menu by requesting any of the dishes to be meat-free, substituting beans for the meat.
Vegetarian options appeal to a broader scope of consumers than before, but it’s still not a lifestyle that most people want to commit to completely. Meat consumption in the United States is increasing, but more and more people are turning to the flexitarian model of adding vegetables to their diets and decreasing the amount of meat, without removing meat entirely. When consumers do eat vegetables, they expect them to be high quality and nutrient dense—the same standards consumers have had for meat in the past. Consumers are also looking to fast-food chains to keep up with the demand for vegetables in their diets.
Will restaurants focus on vegetarian dishes without meat, or will they take this behavior and find a better balance between offering nutritious vegetables paired with less meat? The market is being offered a variety of ways to change. Which route will the industry take?