In the golden age of fast food, cheaper menu options basically sold themselves. Few talked about quality of fast food or its many preservatives, and basically stayed quiet regarding nutritional value. But nowadays, consumers lean toward fresher ingredients and food prepared in front of them, and they’re willing to spend more money for it all, so the appeal of a $1 double cheeseburger or chicken sandwich at a drive-thru considerably lessened. As a result, fast food has had to find creative ways to gain back value-driven customers. A few examples:
People love choices, and McDonald’s has leveraged that love with its new “McPick 2 for $2” menu, in which customers choose any two of four items for $2. Feel like a McChicken and fries? $2. How about a McDouble and a McChicken? $2. Maybe you’re in a side-dish mood and just want some fries and mozzarella sticks? $2.
While you’ve always been able to build you own meal from value menus items, McDonald’s is the first to focus on it.
If you group a bunch of value menu items together, what do you get? A lot of food for not a lot of money. Both Burger King and Wendy’s are offering meal deals to highlight this fact. Wendy’s “4 for $4” meal features a Jr. bacon cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink for $4, while Burger King’s “5 for $4” meal features everything Wendy’s “unbeatable” deal offers plus a chocolate chip cookie for the same price. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. added a celebrity element to its combo of a double cheeseburger, spicy chicken sandwich, fries, and a drink with the recent introduction of Evander Holyfield’s “$4 Real Deal,” which it calls the “heavyweight champion of deals.”
Value items aren’t just for the afternoon and evening hours anymore. Today, you can find value for breakfast. Remember when Taco Bell launched its morning menu? Now you’ll find some value-priced items on there too, such as A.M. Grilled Tacos for $1 and Grilled Breakfast Burritos for $1.29.
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.