It was the strangest thing: There I was in the drive-thru of my local Carl’s Jr. waiting to place an order when the following recorded voice greeted me:
“Hi and welcome to Carl’s Jr.! Would you like to try one of our Six-Dollar Burgers on our new fresh baked buns today?”
I was completely confused. Why all of a sudden was Carl’s Jr. offering fresh baked buns? When did it get so uppity? What was wrong with my usual $2.50 burger under a heat lamp? I didn’t want fresh baked buns, especially if I had to spend $6 or $7 for them. Who would buy this?
The answer: Millennials.
These fancy bread options aren’t geared toward enticing customers like me, who are over age 30. Rather, they’re aimed at reaching younger customers who won’t settle for a typical white burger bun and instead crave something like Culver’s “Pub Bun” that’s sprinkled with onions, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds.
In a USA Today article, executives at Carl’s Jr., Wendy’s, and Subway all pointed to millennials as the reason for these new bread choices. They’re the audience that’s pushing the change. Or as Carl’s Jr. Chief Marketing Officer Brad Haley put it, millennials are “the first generation to grow up with a pervasive foodie culture that has, in turn, sort of democratized high-quality food for everyone.”
Why the need for fast food chains to entice millennials? Numbers don’t lie: According to independent advertising agency Barkley, millennials make up 25% of the U.S. population and more than $200 billion in annual buying power. Fast food chains can’t simply ignore this audience. So if the younger generation wants fancy breads, then fancy breads they shall have.
That’s why Wendy’s is trying to sell you on a pretzel bun. Or why Arby’s is offering roast beef on a Hawaiian sweet roll. Or why Subway wants to put its meat and veggies between two pieces of garlic bread. Millennials are the next generation of spending money. And fast food companies will do whatever it takes to get money to their drive-thrus.
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.