It seems like every week I hear about another fast-food chain announcing that it wants to get rid of artificial ingredients, colorings, preservatives, and/or antibiotics. It’s the newest trend in fast food: Offer fresher stuff like fast-casual competitors in an attempt to attract millennials and people who focus on healthy ingredients in general.
It’s why you’re seeing Taco Bell announce plans to remove all artificial flavors and colorings by the end of the year, with plans to remove additional artificial preservatives and additives by the end of 2017. And why Pizza Hut plans to remove all artificial flavors and coloring from its menu by the end of July. And why Subway announced on June 4 that it plans to gradually make changes over the next year and a half to remove artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its menu.
And what about the biggest, baddest fast-food chain of them all? While McDonald’s hasn’t made a definitive declaration to move away from artificial ingredients like its competitors, it recently announced that it would only source chicken raised with minimal antibiotics.
These fast-food chains may be among the first to start keeping it real, but don’t expect them to be the last. Not by a long shot. The industry is getting pressure from all sides, and packaged food companies and retailers like Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart, and BJ’s Wholesale Club have all announced moves away from antibiotics in meat products over the past year. Simply to keep pace, fast food has to start doing the same.
Will this lead to increased fast-food sales? I doubt it. Don’t get me wrong: It can’t hurt. But if most fast-food customers are like me (and I like to think they are), they could care less about artificial ingredients with 27 letters in the name. They have no interest in knowing what actually goes into a Big Mac or an order of chicken nuggets. Plus, it’s hard for me to see someone who cares about these things wake up one morning and say: “Hey, Subway got rid of caramel color! I’m going to start eating there!”
Regardless of the reasons, fast food is getting real. Start saying goodbye to the indecipherably named chemicals you’ve come to know.
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.