Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Photo by Panera Bread / Facebook

When I was growing up, my process for finding fast food to meet my dietary needs went like this: I’d pore over the major chains’ nutritional information, which wasn’t easy to find back then, to identify menu items that were lower in fat and calories. I loved (and still love) fast food, so I had many a meal that featured Taco Bell’s Border Lights Burrito Supreme (eight grams of fat) or a grilled chicken sandwich from McDonald’s (250 calories). That was how I lost 60 lbs. as a teenager.

But today’s dieters have different and more varied needs. Some are gluten conscious. Some focus specifically on cutting down on added sugar. Others are looking to eat more protein-rich foods. And then there are those who want more plant-based diets. (more…)

Posted by on August 21st, 2017

Photo by Chick-fil-A

Last month, Chick-fil-A began offering gluten-free buns at all of its U.S. locations, following a successful test run in three cities last year. Consumers reacted positively to the buns made from quinoa and amaranth, but there’s a small catch: Because Chick-fil-A’s kitchens aren’t gluten-free, the buns are individually packaged, meaning consumers must assemble their own sandwiches. (Plus they have to pay an extra $1.15).

Though Chick-fil-A’s buns are the latest gluten-free offering in fast food, it’s hardly the first. I’ve assembled this list of some gluten-free offerings from several major chains: (more…)

Posted by on July 19th, 2017

I remember when the McDonald’s near my house began offering free soda refills. As a kid, it was a revelation! Unlimited soda with my Quarter Pounder with cheese.

Next, fast food chains began offering self-serve machines. So not only was I able to have unlimited soda, but I could get it myself without having to wait in line for the person behind the counter to refill it for me (and without the embarrassment of going up to the register three or four times to ask for more Diet Coke).

Now, there’s a new evolution in fast food and sodas: Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. Introduced in 2009, the Freestyle is a touchscreen machine that features up to 165 different Coca-Cola drink products and custom flavors. In addition to the widely available Coke and Sprite products, sodas such as Mello Yello, Barq’s creme soda, flavored Dasani water, and Powerade are offered, as well as flavored syrups to mix in, such as cherry, vanilla, and grape. (more…)

Posted by on June 12th, 2017

Recently, while at the drive-thru at my local McDonald’s, I noticed a poster that read, “Kale. Time To Meet A Real-Life Superfood.”

I grew up on fast food, like the Big Mac value meal I was waiting on. Everyone accepted that virtually the entire fast food menu was bad for you. In the 80s and 90s, there were no posters about kale. Heck, no one knew what kale was! (more…)

Posted by on May 8th, 2017

Photo by Papa John’s / Facebook

My friends and I were in Las Vegas recently for our annual guys’ trip. One evening we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to try the Bacchanal Buffet. Despite its $60 price tag, we were excited to try it because we heard it was the best buffet in Vegas.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had heard. As we walked down a long hallway well off the casino floor, we were stopped halfway down by a sea of people waiting in line to enter. You couldn’t even see the buffet from the line’s end!

My friends and I looked at each other and considered our options. On one hand, this was easily a two-plus hour wait. On the other, we all had this buffet on the brain, so eating elsewhere was bound to be a disappointment.

But then fate (and the power of technology) found an answer. My friend Jeremy started typing away furiously on his iPhone and declared, “Hey guys, for $20 extra we can get a front-of-the-line pass!” (more…)

Posted by on April 10th, 2017

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved hot dogs. When the craving hits and I don’t have any in the house, I will often go to 7-Eleven for a couple of quarter-pound Big Bites. They’re good, they’re cheap, and the chili and cheese are free!

Lately, I’ve noticed that 7-Eleven offers other prepared foods: Chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken wings, and even mozzarella sticks in some locations. It’s even increasing the number of promotions for these items: Any sized coffee and a ring donut for $2. Two pizza slices for just $2. A 1/4 –lb. Big Bite and 32-oz. Big Gulp for $2 (and if you get a second Big Bite, most locations will let you up the soda size to 64 oz). More and more, I find myself going to 7-Eleven for not just my hot dog needs, but for my donut and pizza needs as well.

I’m just one example of an interesting trend in the fast food world: Quick-service chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s are facing increasingly stiff competition from convenience store chains like 7-Eleven and ampm as they expand their prepared food options. (more…)

Posted by on March 6th, 2017

Photo by Wendy's / Facebook

Photo by Wendy’s / Facebook

The fast food industry is bringing back $4 value meals in full force, but this time with an added wrinkle: Customization.

Wendy’s is currently offering customers a limited-time offer to choose its Double Stack burger as a sandwich option for its $4 meal. Other choices include the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and the Crispy Chicken BLT.

While other chains frown on substitutions for these meals — the promo poster for Carl’s Jr.’s meal explicitly states “No Substitutions” — don’t be surprised if that changes soon. Customization remains a growing trend in fast food, which could grow with the help of popular $4 meals. (more…)

Posted by on January 30th, 2017

Photo by Taco Bell

Photo by Taco Bell

Every year around this time, fast food industry experts make lists of trends they expect to see in the industry for the upcoming year. To be honest, I ignore most of them. In fact, I ignore all of them, except one: my own!

With that in mind, here are the top trends I think we’ll see in the fast food industry in 2017: (more…)

Posted by on December 26th, 2016

Photo by naureen-s / Flickr

Photo by naureen-s / Flickr

You’d be forgiven if you thought that the fast food industry was quickly on its way to going the way of robots.

After all, go to the drive-thru and you’re often greeted with a recorded voice asking if you want to try the latest new product. Go inside any McDonald’s in the country and you’re likely to find a wall of kiosks to take your order instead of a cashier. Some places will even serve your food in glass compartments!

Yes, automation is making an impact on the U.S. foodservice industry. It just might not be taking over as fast as you expect. (more…)

Posted by on December 5th, 2016

Photo by McDonald's

Photo by McDonald’s

McDonald’s took the offensive last year in the fast-food breakfast wars when it introduced the concept of all-day breakfast items to its menu. And now it’s testing Breakfast Happy Meals that could lead to the fast food chain going in for the kill.

At 73 locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma, McDonald’s will be offering morning kids’ meals, the first major new food entrée to the Happy Meal line in more than three decades. If the test proves successful, the meals could be rolled out across the U.S. next year. (more…)

Posted by on October 17th, 2016

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