It’s spring, so restaurant foods get lighter

March 22, 2013

Fast food and casual eateries add healthier, lighter choices as the weather warms up.

Flat sales prompt restaurants to court the veto vote—to win over the one person in a group who says no to eating somewhere because there’s nothing on the menu he or she wants.  By satisfying the finicky, there’s a better chance to win the group trip.

Fast food and casual eateries also broaden their appeals to core customers, who also desire interesting new choices, including healthier ones.    

As we enter spring, when lighter fare suggests carefree times and bathing suit season ahead, restaurants are moving aggressively to feature lighter, lower-calorie options.  Many of these are for a limited time only.  For example:

  • Burger King appeals to the health-conscious with its first-ever turkey burger, grilled and topped with fresh-cut lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and mayonnaise, on an artisanal-style bun.
  • McDonald’s will launch the Egg White Delight in late-April.  Made of egg whites, Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese on a whole grain English muffin, this new McMuffin sandwich weighs in at 250 calories vs. 300 for the chain’s classic Egg McMuffin.  McDonald’s has had successes (fruit smoothies) and flops (McLean Deluxe hamburger) with healthier choices through the years, and the company plans to drop its fruit and walnut salad, Reuters reports.
  • Cracker Barrel, known for its Southern comfort foods such as fried chicken and sugar-cured ham, is testing Wholesome Fixin’s for possible launch this summer.  According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, breakfast meals will pack less than 500 calories and lunch/dinner meals less than 600.  The paper cited Davenport & Co. analyst Jeff Omohundro for the menu candidates:  a 300-calorie grilled catfish with seasoned pecan crust, brushed with orange marmalade, and served with roast vegetables; a 360-calorie baked chicken breast, dressed in buttermilk and coated with cornflake crumbs; a 390-calorie breakfast sandwich off eggs and Colby cheese on whole wheat flat bread, with fresh fruit on the side.

The Lempert Report says restaurants build credibility with launches like these.  Compared with, say, a decade ago when lighter food choices typically meant no sauce or smaller portions, these could ring true with consumers because of their nutritional basis and authenticity.