Rumors of a home-cooking Renaissance
At least there is beginning to be more variety and perhaps some healthier choices.Â What I don't understand is that cooking doesn't need to be labourous or time consuming!Â Fresh ingredients can be prepared into a healthy tasty meal in mere minutes!
I am always saddened when I see another Fast Food Icon of the US pop up in Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Paris, Mumbai,Â or Bangkok.Â These fast food places become popular with kids and they load up on fat fast foods.Â In Thailand this has lead to an over weight generation for the first time in history.Â Much of it is to blame on fast food meals of coke-french fries and hamburgers-and over eating of these.
The Changing Face of Fast Food
by Kimberly J. DeckerÂ
by Kimberly J. DeckerÂ
Fast food is riding a wave of change whipped up by forces demographic, economic, cultural, technological âeven aesthetic. Our global, postindustrial era has conditioned us to expect more from our fast food than the basics.
If fast-food operators and the manufacturers who serve them hope to remain relevant, theyâve got to evolve along with the identity of fast foodâbut without straying too far from the principles that made the category such a phenomenon in the first place. Only by treading the line between novelty and familiarity can we bring this archetypal American institution into the 21st century.
Fast food for new millennialsÂ
Fast food for new millennialsÂ
Generation Y, or âmillennials,â more than anyone else, are determining the future of fast food. âBased on the macro research that weâve done,â says John Li, senior executive chef, Kraft Foodservice, Glenview, IL, âthe No. 1 message that we communicate to our customers, especially when we start talking about fast casual and QSR, is that when you think about whatâs happening with regard to the generational influence, itâs all about millennials.â
Millennialsâ dining whims will have a âbig effect on how operators pull together their whole menu strategies and forecast their menu pipeline for the future,â Li predicts.
Look how their culinary temerity has helped mainstream global flavors. Li, just one generation removed as an Xer, recalls, âWhen I grew up in Buffalo, NY, all we had within QSR was, basically, McDonaldâs, Burger King and Wendyâsâthe âBig Three.ââ In this representative American city today, however, âit ranges anywhere from Chinese to very authentic Latin Americanâ based foods, to Southeast Asian options,â he notes.
Major operators regularly roll out international ideas nationwide after auditioning them in carefully chosen markets. According to research from Nationâs Restaurant News, more than 52% of QSRs already menu Mexican-style itemsâand theyâre not all Taco Bells. Jack in the Box, Inc., San Diego, has its Meaty Breakfast Burrito and Chipotle Chicken Ciabatta sandwich, and the premium Southwest Salad from The McDonaldâs Corporation, Oak Brook, IL, has been going gangbusters since its introduction in April. CKE Restaurants, Carpinteria, CA, has long co-branded its Carlâs Jr. and Hardeeâs concepts with Mexican-themed Green Burrito and Red Burrito, respectively, but those outfits are now thriving in places like Oklahoma, Portland, OR, and Salt Lake City.
âFrom an ethnic standpoint, thereâs more latitude, more creative license,â says Jason Dumo, director of marketing, Griffith Laboratories U.S.A., Inc., and Innova, Alsip, IL. âIf a customer wants something thatâs spicy, donât just show them heat. Show them spice delivered through different cuisinesâwhat Asian, or even Indian or Moroccan, spices would be.â
The moral of the story, though, is all about choice. So many different players have come into the market, Li says, âthat there are so many things for consumers to choose. I may want a burger one day, but you know what? I want fish tacos the next.â
Shape-shifting categoriesÂ As lines blur between fast-casual and QSR, operators can capitalize on the increasing demand for both freshness and convenience with menu items that include highly visible use of fresh produce.
As lines blur between fast-casual and QSR, operators can capitalize on the increasing demand for both freshness and convenience with menu items that include highly visible use of fresh produce.
But supermarket deli cases and prepared-food departments started upgrading, and âgrocery stores began to provide these ready-to-heat- and-eat meals away from homeâ that had once been the province of fast food alone, Schurer says. That spelled competition.
Fast-casual concepts âare based on noodles and toppings; sushi ones; sandwich ones; soup-and-sandwich ones; salads; and all kinds of ethnic ones,â Schurer says. Vegetarian? No problem. On a diet? Thereâs something for you.
Fast casual, she says, âcovers a lot of different categories.â And, although thereâs still a difference between traditional QSR and fast casual, she concedes that the distinction is âstarting to blur.â For the sake of QSRâs survival, itâd better. According to the 2004 USDA Economic Research Service report, âThe Demand for Food Away from Home: Full-Service or Fast Food?â QSRs face stiff competition on all frontsâquality, sensory, experiential, even priceâ from alternative foodservice options. Simulations assuming modest household income growth and expected demographic developments show per-capita spending at full-service restaurants rising 18% between 2000 and 2020, while projections for fast-food increases top out at around 6%.
âYouâre seeing a lot of the QSRs borrowing from their morecasual cousins,â Dumo says. âYouâre also seeing more of these classically minted chefs making inroads into QSR and quick-casual places.â Why? In a word: convenience.
Fast food has historically had a lock on that attribute, and while consumers may want more daring flavors and culinary execution, theyâd rather it not come at the expense of expediency. So, he explains, fast-casual operators âare saying to consumers, âYou still come to us for better-quality food. Weâll give you more of a variety in culinary trends. But one area where we were deficient was speed, and now weâll give you that, too,ââ he says. âThereâs migration downstream, thereâs also migration upstream.â
So weâre beginning to see posh ingredients where weâd never expected them before. âAn example might be a bun or an artisan bread item,â says Schurer. âYou used to have your one choice of white-flour hamburger bun. All of a sudden, now we are seeing whole grains or multi-grains, weâre seeing focaccia, weâre seeing ciabatta âweâre seeing a variety of breads that are making their way into fast-food sandwich concepts.â The condiments arenât standing still, either. âIt could be roasted red peppers, caramelized onions or a hummus spread,â she says.
Perhaps the highest-profile manifestation of the fast-food upgrade is the spate of burgers touting premium Angus beef. Carlâs Jr., Hardeeâs and Burger King Corporation, Miami, have joined the Angus stampede, and McDonaldâs anticipates extending its trial run of a third-pound Angus burger from the current Southern California test market to locations in the Northeast. Carlâs Jr.âs Six Dollar Burger âcontinues to sell very well, but itâs the changing pace and the variations that keep these people coming back,â says Jeff Clark, chef and culinary designer, Somethingâs Cooking, Georgetown TX. The restaurant has fleshed out its selection with a guacamole-bacon version, a Western barbecue-bacon version, even a low-carb version.
âIn the old days, we were able to get away with a patty melt,â Clark says. âNow weâve got to do a sautÃ©ed Portobello-mushroom burger to continue to grab the attention of that 18- to 34-year-old guest that weâre all looking at.â This means investigating flavor profiles âthat we never thought would be applicable to our particular situations,â he says. Imagine, for example, a burger topped with your typical slice of American cheese, but one thatâs had âblue cheese flavors worked into it, and thatâs paired with a blue-cheese sauce to make that burger so blue-cheesy that youâre going to believe it the minute you put it in your mouth,â he says.
With price points for such offerings running anywhere from $3 per sandwich to $6 and higher in Carlâs case, operators are betting on consumersâ willingness to factor quality into their value equations. So, when Chipotle Mexican Grill, Denver, made âan expensive decisionâ to source all-natural pork from Niman Ranch, Oakland, CA, they did so, Schurer says, âbecause they liked the quality, the taste and the way it was raised,â and they wagered, correctly, that their customers would, too.
Shaping up fast foodÂ IQF, ready-to-use, fire-roasted vegetables transform common qsr sandwiches by contributing complex flavor and eleganceâand all without adding another preparation step in the back of the house.
Photo: Gilroy Foods
Shaping up fast foodÂ
IQF, ready-to-use, fire-roasted vegetables transform common qsr sandwiches by contributing complex flavor and eleganceâand all without adding another preparation step in the back of the house.
McDonaldâs scored a coup by letting parents substitute Apple Dippersâpeeled apple slices with a caramel dipâfor french fries in Happy Meals at no extra charge. The chain is also putting serious guidelines on sodium contents in kidsâ meals. While that provides a challenge, itâs not impossible. For example, Adam Schreier, corporate chef, Mastertaste, Teterboro, NJ, notes his companyâs salt enhancers can help reduce sodium by 50%, âwhether itâs in the sauce or the meat or the garnish or wherever.â
The other big bugbear in kiddie menus is sugar. Products need to give up the calories and potential cavities while still satisfying kidsâ cravings for sweets. âAgain,â Schreier says, âwe have a sugar modulator where weâre able to take a kidâs apple juice and lower the sugar from, say, 120 calories to 60 calories, keeping the same sweetness effect, same flavor and same great taste.â
Out, damned trans!
Out, damned trans!
âAmericans eat a significant amount of their meals away from home, and the largest portion of calories consumed away from home comes from fast food,â says Ed Wilson, sales and marketing director, AarhusKarlshamn USA, Inc., Newark, NJ. âFast food tends to be high in fat, and high in saturated and trans fat. Now that the link between cardiovascular health and trans fat has been established, it is critical that consumers minimize their intake of trans fat from all sources, and especially fast food.â
As governments continue to attempt bans on trans fats, industry, agriculture and academia have developed alternatives to the partially hydrogenated oils where artificial trans fats lurk. The most popular among these is low-linolenic soybean oil, whose reduced levels of polyunsaturated linolenic acidâ1% vs. 7% in traditional oilsâsufficiently increases its stability to render partial hydrogenation unnecessary. Canola is another viable frying alternative, albeit a pricey one whose supplies are still ramping up to meet demand.
âManufacturers use different approaches to achieve trans-free replacements,â observes Wilson. âOur approach has been to utilize palm, and palm fractions, either alone or in combination with liquid oils. Palm is universally recognized for its inherent stability, which is a function of its low level of polyunsaturated fat. This is reflected in its low iodine value compared to other vegetable oils. Palm requires no hydrogenation and is used around the world as a fry oil due to its outstanding stability.â He points out that the greatest challenges with coming up with suitable frying fats have been âmaintaining the flavor profile consumers associated with the productâ and âachieving adequate stability and fry-life.â
Supply questions, as well as a wish to avert flavor and textural changes, have led to restaurants pacing themselves in trans eliminations. Wendyâs International, Inc., Dublin, OH, was first to substitute a trans-free oil in all its frying applications in Aug. 2006, and McDonaldâs recently adopted a trans-free oil in 3,500 of its 13,100 domestic units, intending to complete the rollout within the next year, and to extend a trans ban to the whole menu.
âI do think thereâs a fresh fastfood segment thatâs growing out there where you can get the speed of fast food without necessarily sacrificing fresh ingredients, quality of service or affordable pricing,â says David Litchman, founder, Pockets, Chicago.
Perhaps the fast-casual category has caught on so tenaciously because it âexudes those qualitiesâ that signify freshness and well-being, Li says. âFast casuals are usually positioned around something thatâs ethnic-based. And ethnic foods, especially Asianâand Latino, to some degreeâautomatically are perceived to be somewhat healthier,â he says. âWhat most fast casuals do a good job of is preparing food in front of you. To see it being made âfreshâ has a big effect on the perception that youâre getting something better for you, as well.â
Of course, in an industry that relies on processing technologies that build in convenience, executing orders from scratchâ or even from speed scratchâ may not be part of the business plan. Recall how backups at the counter caused McDonaldâs âMade for Youâ production system to fizzle several years after its introduction in the late â90s. âIdeally,â Li says, âif youâre a brand-new operator who has endless amounts of capital to get the operation the way you want, you might have every component done that way. But in reality, to stay competitive and keep the price point where weâre talking about with fast casual or QSR, thatâs hard to do.â
Which means itâs even harder for foodserviceâs manufacturing partners. âWhen product gets to that store,â Schreier says, âif itâs got eight pieces to a build, they all better be ready and youâd better be able to assemble that sandwich in 90 seconds.â And itâs not just a matter of order turnaround times; the entire storeâs infrastructure may not be prepared to accommodate fresher production. âWhen you have an operation set up a certain wayâ with equipment and the back-of-the-house storage facilities for inventory thatâs been predominantly frozenâyou donât all of a sudden have space and coolers for a whole new set of ingredients,â he says. A menu change can alter equipment selection, storage and even delivery schedules.
âThe challenge for us as manufacturers,â Li says, âis to help our customers deliver more of those freshness cues.â For the operator, that means finding elements within their production system to showcase to the patron. Operators need âto understand each menu item and then break it down into components,â he says. âCertain components will have more weight in terms of delivering that perception of freshness than others, and you concentrate on those.â
So, letâs say you run a sandwich concept. âThe most important thing to cue freshness is most likely the produce thatâs being put onto that sandwich,â Li says. âThe fact that your meat may not be sliced or grilled in front of that consumer probably does not weigh as heavily as that produce.â So, the consumer had better see the employee pick the lettuce from the pile, pull the roasted peppers from the grill marinade, and lay the fresh tomatoes on the ciabatta. This takes longer than slapping a pre-made patty on a warmed-over bun, but as fast-casual concepts accustom consumers to a slower pace, theyâre âactually changing peopleâs expectations in terms of turnaround time,â Li says. This gives operators the flexibility to increase the quality of menu items and the price while providing a little more time to make those items.
It all comes back to the centrality of choice, which eventually trickles back to manufacturers. âThatâs what operators are looking for these days,â Li says. âTheyâre realizing their customer base is fragmenting and segmenting. So, theyâre all trying to innovate on their menus to reach new audiences. And that usually means new inputs from their partner manufacturers.â In the end, the basics really havenât changed. âItâs just that the number of offerings have increased exponentially. The pie is getting bigger for everybody.âÂ
Kimberly J. Decker, a California-based technical writer, has a B.S. in Consumer Food Science with a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. She lives in the San Francisco bay area, where she enjoys eating and writing about food. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Â