MUMBAI -- One of the best-known fast-food brands, McDonald’s has an interesting Twitter hashtag these days. It is called #UnSkipBreakfast, a platform to not only market its new breakfast range but push the importance of morning meals in the first place.
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McDonald’s is not the first company doing this. Packaged food majors such as Kellogg, PepsiCo, and even Marico, maker of the Saffola brand of edible oils and oats, have driven home the point of having a good breakfast. The objective is tap the growing health-consciousness among consumers and positioning the brand as a healthy alternative. While fast-food chains by doing this seem to be taking a leaf out of the marketing manual of their packaged food peers, experts say they have a bigger battle to wage than the latter. The reason is the indelible perception of fast-food being junk food that is predominant across the globe.
Not surprisingly, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) have found themselves under the scanner of both health food activists and regulators quite frequently in recent times, as the authorities and people have become more conscious of the nutritional value of all they ingest. A case in point being a Centre for Science & Environment study a few years ago, which said popular fast-food brands in the country were high on salt, sugar and trans-fats. All beyond the prescribed food limit, the study said, impacting health.
Most fast-food brands, however, argue that being healthy is in their DNA and that having quality ingredients, high on nutritional value, is part of their core business practice. “Since June 2013, McDonald’s has reduced sodium across its sauces and buns by 10 per cent and fries by 20 per cent. So far, we’ve taken off 18,000 kg of salt from our menu,” says Amit Jatia, vice-chairman, Westlife Development, which runs McDonald’s restaurants in the south and west.
McDonald’s, he says, has also worked on reducing the oil content in mayonnaise, going into burgers, bringing it down to a quarter from 67 per cent earlier. “This initiative has helped take off 300,000 kg of oil, approximately 2,700 million kilocalories per year or 30 kilocalories per burger,” he says.
Executives at Subway, the sandwich restaurant chain, say the company has been offering items such as ‘SubWraps’ since last year, prepared using multi-grains such as whole wheat, soybean, ragi, oats, maize, barley and black gram. In addition, it says it has a 97 per cent fat-free range, where the menu is refreshed often to increase consumer interest and excitement.
Industry sources say rival brands such as Carl’s Jr and Burger King are offering options such as green burgers wrapped in lettuce and flame-grilled patties, respectively, to drive footfall.
Jasper Reid, chief executive, Wendy’s India, a US-based burger chain, which began operations in the country two years ago, says having quality ingredients in products has been the brand’s selling proposition from the start. “Disclosing the calorific or nutritional value of our ingredients is one aspect of this, which we are working on. But, food quality is something we consider core to our business,” he says.
While Wendy’s in the US is positioned as a premium offering, providing quality fare to consumers, Reid admits the challenge here has been to maintain quality at an affordable price. So, he says, the chain is in the process of introducing its entry-level burger, positioned as an all-day breakfast option, at ~39. It is also looking to introduce submarine sandwiches in the next few weeks, positioned again as a healthy meal option in addition to its burgers.
Similarly, Domino’s, the largest pizza chain in India, has toppings for the indulgent and the health-conscious. Experts say QSR chains are now working on dairy and beverage products as they strive to improve both food and drink options. “Our dairy products such as the popular soft-serves have less than three per cent fat,” Jatia says. Reid says the emphasis at Wendy’s has been providing healthy as well as varied beverage options, from Arabica coffee to masala chai and allied fruit delights. “Most QSR chains have a tie-up with one soft-drink partner or another. Ours is with Coca-Cola. For those who want something different, that option is also available,” Reid says.
While chains continue to push the pedal on nutrition, the question is whether consumers are buying into it at all? Ashwin Bhadri, chief executive officer, Equinox Labs, a Mumbai-based laboratory specialising in food, water and air testing, says consumers are taking notice of these initiatives.
“McDonald’s, for instance, provides detailed disclosure of the nutritional value of products a consumer is buying, which increases comfort for the latter. While something like this is yet to evolve with other fast-food chains, as consumers demand to know how healthy a product is, they may be pushed to make it a part of their regular business practice,” Bhadri says.
Though most fast-food chains are reluctant to give a break-up of their revenue from healthy products, the fact, say experts, that most are devoting greater attention to this trend speaks volumes of its business prospects. The health food trend is clearly here to stay.
SOURCE Viveat Susan Pinto, Business Standard
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