Fast-food restaurant tricks

June 23, 2011

Will fast-feeders apply salesmanship skills to better-for-you foods and make them more prominent?

Fast-food restaurants are high-volume artists with the distractive skills of magicians to pull off their performance tricks with relatively few people objecting.

For example, fast-feeders sold about $5.5 billion worth of kid’s meals in 2009, 28% of them to children younger than six years old, says NPD Group/Crest, as reported by USA Today. “For each kid who buys a kid’s meal, there’s typically at least one parent – and often siblings – who make more profitable purchases,” Ron Paul, president, Technomic, told the paper.

The fast-feeders spent a much smaller $360 million to buy the toys for kid’s meals in 2006, according to a Federal Trade Commission report cited by Smart Money.  

True, the city of San Francisco has prohibited toys in children’s meals that are high in calories, fat or sugar since 2010. And Jack in the Box just curtailed toys in its meals aimed at children, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. But these are exceptions.

Moreover, if consumers want to buy healthier choices in these eateries, they’ll pay more. A salad with chicken averages $4.85 – a full $1.90 more than a large burger, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. A healthy chicken sandwich averages $3.73, or 26% more than a large red meat sandwich, Smart Money adds.  

The magazine takes fast-feeders to task, noting as well:

  • Value meals prompt customers to buy more than they initially intended.
  • The smiley greeting is meant to retain customers. Engaged consumers spend $33.90 on fast food per month on average, 16% more than the $29.24 non-engaged consumers spend (Source: Gallup, 2011).
  • Extensive lobbying kept a soda tax out of the recent federal health reform legislation.

The Lempert Report wants to see more work by fast feeders to join in the nation’s fight against obesity. It will be worth seeing how Jack in the Box fares with its new, healthier choices for kids, and how Krispy Kreme’s plans to add oatmeal, yogurt and fruit juice to its menus play out.