Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Can Salads Ever Be Considered "Fast" Food?

I think it's an important question given all of the hoopla over the announcement that over the course of the next seven YEARS McDonald's will allow consumers to order side salads with their Big Macs and other sandwiches (see Marion Nestle's always thoughtful take on this here).

So here's the rub as I see it.

Salads aren't fast. I mean they're literally not fast. You can't really eat a salad on the run. Instead you have to sit down, tear open the dressing, dress the salad (sometimes more than once if the container is deep), toss the salad, use a fork, and chew a fair amount. Contrast that with sandwiches and fries that can be eaten with one hand, and which are designed to almost be swallowed without chewing.

Perhaps that's why McDonald's reports that their current salad offerings (which have been on the menu for an awfully long time) only make up 2% of sales.

And consider this. 65% of McDonald's sales come from their drive-thru windows.

Take a peek at the McCombo in the advertisement put out by McDonald's to celebrate their announcement. Do you think that's drive thru fare?

At the end of the day people go to fast food establishments for literally fast food. Unless someone can figure out how to make salads literally fast, putting them on menus is not likely to lead to salad sales, but it will likely lead to decreased scrutiny of McDonald's - something I have no doubt they're literally banking on.

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  1. Cactus Wren6:55 am

    Michael Pollan has pointed out that fast-food chains have a term for the phenomenon of including salads on menus: "denying the denier", so when a parent refuses to take her kids to McBurger on the grounds that *she* wants something better than a McBurger or Poultry McBlobs for lunch, they can instantly respond, "But Mommmm, *you* can get the *salad*!"

  2. Good points and I would also add this: I am a big proponent of increasing access to healthy choices, but know it has limited impact when it comes to fast food customers. The fast food executives know this too."Burger King’s market research, for example, showed that people who walk into a restaurant intending to order grilled chicken change their minds at the register and consistently order fried."
    The key for fast food companies is getting people in the door. One of their most effective tools for doing that is advertising. McDonald’s annual advertising budget has been estimated to exceed $2 billion. A significant portion of that is directed at marketing to children.
    Instead of limiting marketing to children, the agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation outlines numerous ways McDonald's will continue marketing to them. For those of us working hard to get McDonald's marketing out of schools, kids' fitness events and all the other places they attempt to get around the parental gatekeeper, our job just got more difficult. When AHG partners with McDonald's, it increases the likelihood that others will too. It's made it even tougher to discourage organizations like school PTAs from promoting McTeacher Nights. Instead of calling on McDonald's to stop marketing to children, AHG's partnership acts as an implied endorsement which reflects poorly on the organization and those of us who represent it. If the Alliance truly wants a healthier generation, it should join the call for McDonald's to stop marketing to children. Public health didn't use the "global marketing power" of Joe Camel in order to reduce the rates of youth smoking. It's time to retire Ronald, shutdown and stop marketing McDonald's to children.

  3. Pretty sure the folks I routinely see ordering takeout "bols" at Chipotle manage to eat them on the run somehow. But...let me guess...I bet the response to that is that "Well, but Chipotle consumers are different from McD's consumers."

    That's probably true - and it puts the spotlight back where it belongs: consumer behavior.

    As I just posted on Marion Nestle's blog on this same topic, I don't understand why we keep giving grocery stores a completely free pass while we beat on the fast food guys and food manufacturers.

    I'm no fan of McD's and don't routinely eat their food at all -- but based on actual facts, their menu represents one of the less horrifying food assortments out there, and I include what's sitting at home in most folks' freezers, fridges and cabinets.

    Grocery stores are one of the most egregious enablers in this whole mess and I am baffled as to why no one ever seems to call them on it.

    1. Actually I'd say the difference is that a chipotle bol can be eaten with a spoon, is filled with soft easily swallowable mushiness, and doesn't require dressing.

  4. Restaurant salads drive me crazy. There are very few places where I am willing to order a salad, and it isn't just fast food places, although they tend to be the worst.

    I get severe indigestion from iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and green bell peppers. I also get indigestion from lettuce that isn't fresh. Eighty percent of salads seem to contain one of the 3 items above. Then there is "baby green mix", or "mesclun" or whatever it gets called, which always seems to include little bits of some red leafed thing that had turned to slime. Maybe not so much lately, but I've pretty much given up on ordering salads so I can't really say.

    Three quarters of what's left is Caesar salad, which may or may not be fresh and even if it is, the industrial dressing tends t get slopped on by young male kitchen workers who can't imagine anyone wanting to eat a pile of lettuce without a whole lot of grease to help it go down.

    I actually understand why restaurants do salads so badly. The ingredients are relatively expensive, they are highly perishable, they require quite a bit of labour to prepare, and they have never received cultural respect as the centrepiece of a meal - they are seen as some little thing you eat on the side or as a starter because you "should".

    I honestly don't know what the answer to these problems is, or how you would make salads "fast". The above problems in fact stem from trying to make salads "fast". It's just that in the process they've been made pretty much inedible to me and have greatly reduced my enthusiasm about salads in general.

  5. I saw an ad yesterday for the KFC Go Cup:
    Now that's some drive thru fare. Sadly, I suspect it'll be a huge success.

  6. Anonymous10:58 am

    When I have to eat fast food with my partner, I specifically choose Harvey's because you can have a side salad instead of fries or onion rings. No, it's not a very good salad, but at least it's healthier. And I get the grilled chicken or veggie burger on a whole wheat bun. So it's making the best of a bad situation. I think it would be a good thing for McDonald's and other fast food restaurants to also offer this option. We actually sit down to eat our occasional fast food meals, so the need for a fork is not a problem. It is still fast because there is no table service, etc.

  7. Anonymous3:09 pm

    Although not fast Wendys salads are quite good I think. zthe chicken is not breaded and one version has very tasty blue cheese. They seem to be making a true effort. They offer half or full portion sizes too.

  8. I can honestly say that I eat salads "on the run"...but that's probably because that's what I've always done...And, for the record, salads DO NOT need dressing.
    I will say that people will buy these salads, because they think they're eating healthy. But, in reality, they're better off eating nothing...especially since McD's likely has the same 9-day old, pesticide-layden lettuce from god knows where that most restaurants use, topped with flat-top heated, pre-sliced "grilled chicken pieces" that come in frozen from Taiwan. And, hell, dump on a mayonnaise-based dressing or the 'healthier alternative' surgery vinaigrette (yeah it may be fat free, but it sure as hell isn't sugar free). And probably even some 'candy coated' nuts, that are jam-packed with awful franken-ingredients...And after all that? You might as well just eat the fries. If McD's wants to do the world a favor, they'd take the short road to hell, and take all of their horrific, obesity causing franken-foods with em.
    Do yourself and your kids a favor - make your own meals.

  9. *shrugs* I just like having the salads for when I'm travelling. They're still crap though. Everthing McD's sells is crap.