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!
To be fair, while kale is considered by many to be a “superfood,” McDonald’s kale salad bowl, which contains bacon, fried chicken, and croutons, has more fat, calories, cholesterol, and sodium than most of the other items on the menu.
Still, the addition of kale signals how times have changed. It’s becoming the norm for fast food chains to emphasize a food or ingredient generally characterized as healthy. While there remain plenty of bad-for-you items on the menu, an increasing number of customers want healthier (or at least healthier-seeming) options.
Restaurants are responding. Some recent examples:
McDonald’s has been doing test runs of offering fresh beef at various locations and recently announced it would replace frozen beef patties for fresh ones in its Quarter Pounder burgers by the middle of 2018 at most of its U.S. locations.
Papa John’s announced a partnership with Green Bean Delivery, an organic home grocery delivery service, to offer all-natural ingredients including freshly sliced Roma tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms. The pizza chain is testing these ingredients in the Lexington, Kentucky market through May 21. In addition, Papa John’s began offering an option to purchase any pizza made with gluten-free crust. The gluten-free option is available only in the company’s Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis and Nashville, Tennessee markets.
Starbucks announced that it would offer a gluten-free sandwich this year as well as organic soups, part of its plan to double food sales to nearly $5 billion by 2021.
Chipotle recently announced that its menu now contains only “clean” ingredients after the company removed artificial ingredients from its tortillas.
Editor’s Note: The kale salad at McDonald’s isn’t the only unhealthy salad culprit. Check out 10 salads with more fat than a Big Mac.
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.