Tag Archives: restaurant trends

Taco Bell’s Menu ‘Among Healthiest’ Of Fast Food Chains

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Taco Bell has subtly become one of the healthiest fast-food chains, Business Insider has reported.

The shift, from a chain traditionally known for fried, cheesy specialties to which the term “healthy” was never attached, has been accomplished over the past four years since the arrival there of dietician and product developer Missy Nelson. Since then, Taco Bell has pledged to cut artificial ingredientsand switch to cage-free eggs. The brand has introduced the lower-calorie Fresco menu, the high-protein Cantina menu, and a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association. Across all offerings, there has been a 15% reduction in sodium.

In the same time frame, the taco chain has also premiered the Doritos Locos taco, the waffle taco, and, most recently, the uber-cheesy Quesalupa.

Clearly, nutrition-savvy advances can coexist with products that few would put on their diet plans.

Taco Bell’s game plan for adding healthy options while releasing craveable hits is simple.

“We just really encourage people to customize to however it fits their lifestyle,” Nelson says.

From top to bottom, Taco Bell, especially in its online and mobile ordering platforms, has been subtly organized to promote this sense of choice — whether to pig out or to eat healthy.

Not eating meat? Click “Vegetarian” to see all the veggie and vegan options. Want to cut calories? Simply hit the “make it Fresco” button to cut cheese, rice, and sour cream and add pico de gallo.

“It’s one click and it automatically does it for you,” Nelson says of the Fresco option. “Now we’re seeing a huge increase in Fresco-style orders through our mobile ordering.”

Then comes the endless options to customize.

It’s a system that can be used to create a monster burrito, filled with bacon, potatoes, and spicy ranch. But it can also be used to shave some calories and fat off your meal. And no matter what you order, it’s equally easy to figure out the nutritional information with the customizable nutrition calculator.

Nelson also says tiny details, such as the font style and the phrasing on the online list of ingredients, have been tweaked to make it easier for customers to read and understand the menu.

By positioning its nutrition strategy around choice, Taco Bell gets to keep less-than-healthy options on the menu. It also frees the chain of the need to directly compete with health-obsessed fast-casual chains like Chipotle when it comes to nutrition.

“Us touting ourselves as a health halo — it’s not authentic and it’s not real,” Taco Bell spokesman Alec Boyle says.

Instead of running ad campaigns focused on health and freshness, the company prefers to make nutritional information available to those who want to make healthier choices. That ranges from providing online FAQs for customers searching for the best way to eat healthy at Taco Bell to having more in-depth conversations with “influencers” who are interested in the topic.

Nelson has led the chain in making some changes that affect the entire menu, such as the move toward cutting sodium and simplifying ingredients.

Overall, however, the onus at Taco Bell is on customers to be healthy. The fast-food chain has provided taco lovers with surprisingly useful nutrition tools — now, they just have to use them.

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Robotized Restaurants Coming Soon To Somewhere Near You

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A McDonald’s grill station: Soon to be a thing of the past?

A soon-to-open restaurant in the San Francisco area will point the way to a future restaurant owners will love, but some of their workers – soon to be former workers – will hate.

Hinted at in an article in Business Insider, this already-hiring-staff-via-a-Craigslist-ad eatery (see the Business Insider article),is said to be introducing a machine that takes allALL – the labor out of burger production.

Well, almost all: Someone has to load the so-called Momentum Machine with ingredients for the burger (including the to-be-prepared-to-order add-ons) and the bun, which the machine also will shape, bake and deliver, filled, to a customer pick-up station. The original Momentum Machine, introduced several years ago, could produce burgers at the rate of 360 or so an hour. The new version is said to be able to turn out 400 an hour!

One can imagine that prep workers, those who chop the onions and other bits and pieces burgers might be garnished with, will, in the short term, retain their jobs. But, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before one person will be capable of, and empowered to, do all the necessary chopping (via a machine) and feeding of ingredients into a machine that will thoroughly mix and evenly distribute them into portioned salads.

For some fast food restaurants, the cost savings such a machine can mean could mean the difference between barely being profitable and being very comfortably profitable. For future restaurants, not needing space for burger-making and possibly even food-prepping personnel could mean more of a facility’s floor space could be devoted to customers’ use. Or, alternatively, using smaller stores, reducing rent and other costs, as well as the savings machines provide by replacing workers.

Business Insider says the best estimates find that up to 50% of jobs could be automated by the late 2030s, with restaurant workers among the most vulnerable to displacement.

Some locations have already started moving away from human labor in an effort to cut operating costs. In its place, they’ve started relying on machines that are getting more sophisticated every day. Within the next 20 years, experts say, nearly every restaurant job once held by humans could get passed on to robots.

“A lot of what’s done in restaurants is already automated,” Rebecca Chesney, research and partnerships manager at the Institute for the Future, told Business Insider. “Today’s robotics can actually mimic human gestures that you’d need for cooking, for instance, way more than they could years ago.”

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In addition to Momentum Machines and its burger-generating giant – it “essentially works like a printing press for hamburgers, pressing patties, chopping toppings and assembling the ingredients into a sumptuous-looking sandwich,” the magazine said – referred to Eatsa, which FoodTradeTrends.com reported on in March, shortly after Business Insider profiles the new, old automat-style restaurant, where, as our earlier article said:

It’s computer-based ordering system – for the sole specialty, a bowl of quinoa priced at $6.96 and topped with whatever the customer orders, from a wide range of choices – is recorded and stored so when a customer returns, his/her previous preferences are  displayed and alternates are suggested as part of the approach to encouraging repeat visits.

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Instead of talking to a cashier to order their quinoa bowls, Eatsa diners build their meals on touch screens and pick them up from windows. There are no chefs or servers in sight.

Chesney says places like Eatsa and companies like Momentum Machines are strong signals for where fast food is heading because people crave speed and low cost — two qualities that human-run restaurants can’t offer the way robot-powered restaurants can.

Because not all customers are likely to want that degree of automation as part of their dining-out experience, lesser, significantly different types of automation can be anticipated in restaurants. However that plays out, you can be sure that a lot of staff also will be ‘out’.

 

Critics Slam McD’s Ad, Say They’re NOT Loving It

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It’s one thing – a nice thing, in fact – for McDonald’s to have eliminated artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets, but it’s quite something else, critics say, for the company to imply, as a current TV campaign does, that Mickey D focuses on serving, what “we all want – what’s best for our kids!”

Adding that line to a commercial selling McNuggets has some health advocates crying foul.

“That’s the defining line that sets up the whole ad,” says Emily Mardell, a registered dietitian in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. That and the whole concept of the ad, she says, “is incredibly misleading.”

Using even stronger language, the executive director of Ottawa (Canada)’s Centre for Health Science and Law calls that marketing approach “grossly misleading. Bill Jeffery argues preservatives or no preservatives, deep-fried and salted Chicken McNuggets “simply aren’t a healthy choice for children,” according to a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) report. “What they’re advocating is so far removed from good nutrition, it’s almost kind of laughable,” Jeffery declared.

Still, McDonald’s, says the company is very serious about its campaign to promote its preservative-free McNuggets, which already have no artificial flavors or colors.

The chain started offering its reformed finger food at U.S. and Canadian locations in August.

The move is part of a bigger mission to offer menu items that better “reflect the cares and concerns of the modern day guest,” McDonald’s Canada spokesman Adam Grachnik said in an email to CBC News.

“We are on a journey to be better.”

The journey includes dropping some reportedly questionable ingredients from McNuggets like TBHQ — a preservative used for vegetable oils.

Besides the line, “We all want what’s best for our kids,” the company also promotes the menu item online with the phrase, “Because your family matters.”

But health advocates say eliminating a preservative or two doesn’t change the overall health concerns with fast food.

“It’s not a categorical shift,” says Mardell.

“These are still foods that are high in fat, high in sodium. They’re not the types of foods that you want in the everyday or even in routine intake for children.”

According to McDonald’s own numbers, just four McNuggets contain nine grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium — one-quarter of the recommended daily sodium requirement for kids ages four to eight.

McDonald’s serves up its Chicken McNuggets with its own dipping sauces that contain preservatives. And the above-cited sodium numbers don’t include the accompanying dipping sauce, one of which, the barbecue, option has the highest sodium count at 300 milligrams — as much as four McNuggets.

And the fact the company’s commercials don’t mention that the dipping sauces still contain preservatives prompted the CEO of a major U.S. restaurant chain, Panera Bread, to also suggest McDonald’s is misleading customers.

“I was offended watching this commercial,” CEO Ron Shaich told Business Insider. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ Sure, you’ve got McNuggets that are preservative-free, but what are you dipping them in? Sauces that are filled with that stuff!”

McDonald’s Grachnik also listed an improvement the company made last spring: adding leafy green vegetables like kale to its salads. But in February, CBC News revealed McDonald’s crispy chicken caesar kale salad entree with dressing has more calories, fat and sodium than a Double Big Mac. At 1,400 milligrams, the sodium amount nearly meets an adult’s daily recommended intake.

“Putting kale into the menu doesn’t mean you’re getting a healthy choice,” Toronto registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon told CBC News at the time.

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

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When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Health Science and Law says it’s nice to see a big company moving towards antibiotic-free chicken. But he still finds himself underwhelmed by McDonald’s changes.

“This isn’t about improving the health of their customers,” he concludes. “They’re just going to try to appeal to people’s emotions about health.”

Despite all the criticisms, McDonald’s is standing by its message of making positive changes to its menu. “We are proud of these big changes, even as we seek to do more and make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald’s even better,” said Grachnik.

Veggie Burgers Highlighted in NYT

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The veggie burger at the NoMad Bar in New York City uses grains, fresh vegetables, quinoa and lentils, “to replace the texture of meat,” chef Daniel Humm said, with eggs, cream cheese and Dijon mustard to hold it together. (CreditAlex Wroblewski/The New York Times)

When a laudatory 1,300-word article is published about you in The New York Times, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve ‘arrived’ – long after the likes of well-liked blogger Vegan Miche began singing your praises.

‘You’, in this instance, is the veggie burger – a contradiction in terms that, hardly surprisingly, appeals to many carnivores as well is vegetarians, vegans and other special-diet followers.

The Times noted that, until relatively recently, the veggie burger was “a culinary nobody, mushy and maligned. But when a chef as decorated as Daniel Humm turns his attention to perfecting a veggie burger, the signal is clear: That second-fiddle vegetarian staple has arrived.”

Mr. Humm has a restaurant in Manhattan called Eleven Madison Park. It has three Michelin stars, so it’s a pretty good bet his “carefully constructed” version veggie burger – it uses grains, fresh vegetables, quinoa and lentils “to replace the texture of meat,” he told The Times – also employs “eggs, cream cheese and Dijon mustard to hold it together.”

He added that, “Nothing goes into the burger that doesn’t serve a purpose.”

His mission was to make this item “to be able to stand next to our beef burger and our chicken burger, not be a dish we just put on the menu for the sake of it,” he added.

He offers it up at his NoMadBar, which is steps away from Eleven Madison Park.

The Times article continued (today, August 31):

After decades as an amateur player eager for a big break, the veggie burger has made its ascent, becoming a destination dish and hashtag darling as never before.

The newest generation of veggie burgers has moved from the edges of the menu — at best an interesting challenge for chefs to tackle — to its center, a dish to offer not just for the sake of meat-avoiding customers, but to make memorable in its own right. To do that, they are turning to a vast arsenal of ingredients and techniques to get the flavor, texture and heft they’re seeking.

April Bloomfield created a veggie burger inspired by soondae, a dark Korean blood sausage commonly stuffed with noodles, rice or vegetables, to serve at Salvation Burger, which is set to reopen this fall after a fire damaged the kitchen. (Her version is made with sweet-potato noodles, lentils, carrots, carrot juice and garam masala.)

Chef Brooks Headley, formerly a pastry chef at Del Posto in New York, has a restaurant, Superiority Burger restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, that is built around his veggie burger, “arguably the most acclaimed burger of any kind in New York recently,” The Times said.

The Times article went on and on, and included links to an assortment of veggie burger recipes. They did a good job of highlighting what an increasing number of people will be striving for as they increasingly build ‘healthful eating’ into their lifestyles. (Butchers, beware!)

Playing Chicken Is Popular With Restaurant Chains

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Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich (Photo: Wendy’s)

At a sizable number of restaurant chains, chicken is the new [1] taste treat, [the new profit center, or [3] both of those? Three should be your choice, if you’ve been paying attention to something that has truly become a trend in recent months, according to a recent CNBC report.

There are. the channel says, crispy chicken chips, taco shells made out of fried chicken, plus chicken flavored with honey mustard or sriracha — and that’s just in the past few months.

The top 250 restaurant chains added some 325 new chicken items during the 12 months ended June 30, according to research from Technomic. For comparison, only 73 new beef items were added in the same period.

The trend reflects consumer cravings for healthier, high-protein meat, not to mention a decade of high beef prices, which made chicken more appetizing for the companies’ bottom line.

Since chicken can be healthy or indulgent, it can please a wide spectrum of diners, said Mark Kalinowski, a Nomura analyst.

The new products are also aimed at bolstering sluggish sales, with chains looking to innovative, new products to create buzz and drive traffic into restaurants.

Consumers may have heard of Taco Bell’s Cheetos Burrito or the Naked Chicken Chalupa, which features a chicken “taco shell.” However, they may not be familiar with the Mexican food chain’s latest test: Crispy Chicken Chips, which are wedge-shaped chicken tenders.

“Taco Bell clearly wants to figure out innovative ways to use chicken to its advantage,” Kalinowski wrote in a recent research note. “Taco Bell’s heritage of innovation continues. And with Taco Bell likely to become more relevant to investors once Yum China is divested from parent company Yum Brands, it’s good to keep an eye on ‘the Bell.'”

New products can also help chains grab new customers, said Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group.

“[Brands] want to delight consumers in a way they haven’t expected,” he told CNBC.

 

McD Attracts Breakfast-all-Day Lovers Everywhere, and a Drunken Horseman in Wales

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Photograph: Alan Diaz/AP

The deepening food crisis in Venezuela has forced McDonald’s largest franchisee, globally, to halt sales of Big Macs because the company is unable to obtain the flat, center bun that separates the two burger patties.

This is hardly the only crisis affecting McDonald’s recently. First, while the ‘all day breakfast’ concept initiated in the fourth quarter of last year remains popular, it seems to be doing so at the expense of other menu items. The company’s domestic sales in the U.S. grew a mere 1.8% in the last three months – half of what Wall Street was anticipating. That, CNNMoney reported recently, “represents a slowdown from the 5.4% growth in the first quarter of the year.”

The Guardian noted that the earnings disappointment was also reflected in a 4% revenue loss, to $6.26 billion, as the burger giant suffered, like many of its competitors, in the face of growing uncertainty among consumers.

But The Washington Post declared that, “Adding the anytime breakfast accomplished important things for McDonald’s: It showed customers that the company was listening to them. And it demonstrated to investors that new chief executive Steve Easterbrook is willing to take bold steps — not just make incremental tweaks — to try to pull the burger chain out of its rut. But, even though McDonald’s plans to make more items available on its all-day breakfast menu later this year, the offering appears to be bumping up against its limits in terms of its ability to drive long-term sales growth.”

With sales down, stock prices followed in the same direction, with share prices falling 4% on one recent day – this after the 30% share price gain the company enjoyed over the past year.

Meanwhile, one franchisee in Wales decided to let nothing stand (or stagger) in its way of boosting its share of the late night, post-pub crowd: It opened, initially at an outlet in the city of Llandudno, a walk-through lane for customers incapacitated by drink and sensibly not driving or, in one instance, out for a late-night horseback ride. (The latter man, who appeared to be and sounded intoxicated, actually used the drive-through lane, before the walk-through version was established.)

 

 

FDA Encouraging Sharp Cut in Salt In Packaged, Restaurant Foods

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past week issued “long-awaited proposed guidelines targeting packaged foods and restaurant meals that contain the bulk of American’s daily sodium intake,” a voluntary approach that is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing effort “to push the food industry toward reducing the amount of ingredients such as sugar and some fats in an effort to improve consumer health and reduce medical costs,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The story says that “the FDA wants to cut individual daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams over the next decade from a current average of about 3,400 milligrams. It is targeting 150 categories of food, including soups, deli meats, bakery products, snacks and pizza, and officials said consumers have struggled to reduce their intake because most of it is added before it reaches the table … The voluntary salt targets are to be phased-in. The rules as currently proposed give manufacturers two years to begin cutting sodium levels in products, and up to 10 years to make further cuts. The longer time period is intended to recognize the time it takes to develop new foods products, the FDA said.”
According to the Journal, “The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, estimated that it would take six to 18 months and cost $500,000 to $700,000 to reformulate a product with less salt to meet the guidelines, assuming alternatives were available.”
Meanwhile, in a related story, the Gothamist reports that a New York State appeals court has lifted an injunction that prevented the New York City Board of Health from enforcing a sodium labeling law.
The story says that beginning next Monday (June 6), “any chain restaurant in New York City that operates 15 or more locations in the United States is subject to the law, which requires them to mark dishes that exceed the Board’s recommendation for daily sodium intake with an icon of a salt shaker inside a triangular warning sign.”

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Unfortunately, the food industry has brought the need for such guidelines on itself, by so substantially – and unnecessarily – boosting the sodium content of countless products in the name of either taste-enhancing or improving shelf (and pantry) life.

I happen to be uncommonly sensitive to salt in food. I do nearly all the cooking in my house, and only very rarely do I add any salt to anything. And there are a great many places (including nearly every fast food chain) that I refuse to patronize because of their salt use practices.

Among other things, too much salt in one’s food can contribute to high blood pressure, water retention and, not by chance, weight gain.

In reporting on the new FDA proposed guidelines, The New York Times noted that Americans eat almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend. Regarding its link to high pressure, “a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” The Times quoted the FDA as saying “one in three Americans have high blood pressure; For African-Americans, it is one in two.”

The FDA said Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, well above the 2,300 recommended. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a decrease in sodium intake by as little as 400 milligrams a day could prevent 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes annually.

While there has been some scientific controversy over how much to reduce sodium, scientists at the FDA said the health advantages are beyond dispute.