Luring fast-food customers with fish

February 19, 2013

How deep is the seafood opportunity at quick eateries? Who’ll make a splash?

We’re in the pre-Lent period when Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays.  So we see fast-feeders filling the airwaves with fish commercials, in what could become a new winter ritual.  

Who’s on board in a big way?  Wendy’s with a premium panko-coated North Pacific cod filet sandwich.  Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s with a charbroiled Atlantic cod sandwich on a honey-wheat bun.  Burger King with an Alaskan cold-water white fish filet sandwich.  And McDonald’s USA, augmenting its 50-year-old Filet-O-Fish sandwich with Fish McBites, a new Happy Meal served up in its nearly 300 Philadelphia restaurants through March; the chain offered a $1 snack-size version between Feb. 12 and 14.

Meanwhile, Long John Silver’s, the 1,200-unit seafood chain, offers a cod and shrimp basket to differentiate from the growing school of competitors.

Will consumer demand warrant that fish offerings stay on menus year-round, or at least more months of the year?  The Lempert Report sees a better chance of that happening if fewer fish items are fried and more are paired with light, healthy ingredients such as salad, fruit and yogurt.

That way, fish could become more than a Lent alternative in fast-food settings.  If people could choose the taste, texture and health level of what they order, they’d be more inclined to join family and friends who want to eat the more typical fast-food fare.

Seafood sustainability is another way to stand apart—and McDonald’s USA has struck first as the first national restaurant chain certified by the Marine Stewardship Council that it catches Alaskan Pollock in an environmentally responsible way.  This applies to all fish products it sells in all of its U.S. locations.  McDonald’s told The New York Times that the global MSC has previously certified the European and domestic fisheries that supply the chain.

MSC has its critics, according to published accounts in the Times and National Public Radio.  But we at TLR think the logo will still convey to consumers that the chain is trying hard to be responsible, just like Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Costco, Big Y, Shaw’s, Food Lion, The Fresh Market, CVS, Walgreens and others that also associate with MSC.