Are Healthy Food Menu Offerings Viable for the Fast Food Industry?

The fast food industry is recognizing what we all now know to be true: high-fat, sodium and sugar laden processed food isn’t very good for us. At the same time, the demand for quick, affordable, delicious meals has increased with the rise of the millennial demographic, longer work weeks, working parents and fast-paced modern lives. As fast food operators attempt to address consumer demand for healthy options, however, their success has been mixed to say the least. Many operators have put healthier fare on their menus, only to take them off within months of poor sales. And yet consumers continue to ask for healthy options, and new entrants into the QSR category offering fresh, lower-fat and lower-salt choices are encroaching on the market share. How can a QSR operator begin to introduce healthy options with success?

We believe the issue is one of trust. Perception and reality are often at odds, but perception is what matters. If you have been offering burgers and fries for 50 years and suddenly want to start selling kale coleslaw with tofu, or even something as simple as a side of rice, customers may refuse to budge from their perception that your restaurant is the ideal place to indulge in a juicy fat burger. It makes sense, after all you have spent the past 50 years convincing them this is what you do best, and human beings are notoriously reluctant to embrace change. Abandoning the idea of introducing healthier choices altogether is not an option either, as health-conscious millennials and the younger generation Z will force the issue. So what is a QSR operator to do?

Building trust takes time. We have seen transformation projects go wrong when consumers were asked to change their perception of an organization too drastically or quickly to allow them to adapt. In response we have developed what we call the “trust ladder,” and it is exactly that: a series of steps you must take in order to have the credibility to offer something new and different. This approach allows operators to prove themselves to consumers and shift perception through gradual but significant changes. Whether you are considering entirely transforming your offering, or just tweaking it, you still need consumers to believe in your ability to deliver. If you ask too much of them all at once without earning credibility and trust, consumers will see your new offering as fraudulent and it may even impact their overall perception. Taking a measured, strategic approach is required in order to successfully shift customers’ perception and see success in a new direction.

In this paper, we discuss five rungs on the trust ladder QSR operators should consider to build trust around offering healthier menu items. The process should be thought out and delivered through a strategic approach, rather than attempted in one-off efforts (i.e., throwing a baked potato on your menu without any other thought), and here we offer some key insights into what that approach might look like.

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