Fast food chains are using fresher, fancier ingredients to try to lure foodies and more-sophisticated consumers to their restaurants, according the Wall Street Journal.
Chains like Taco Bell and Arby’s are shifting away from pre-packaged and made-in-advanced meals with the hopes of taking a slice of the success seen by fast casual chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Part of the appeal of fast casual restaurants is that they offer affordable, freshly-prepared food, a formula that clicked with customers affected by the economic downturn.
"Fast casual concepts have been stealing share from fast food and they have raised the bar for fast-food restaurants, which are trying to step up and compete," Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst for NPD Group Inc., told the Wall Street Journal.
Taco Bell’s new Cantina Bell line of burritos and salad bowls have citrus-herb marinated chicken and fresh avocado. Pizza chain Sbarro recently revealed new pizzas that use sauce made with crushed peeled tomatoes and fresh grated mozzarella. Wendy’s now offers an upgraded bacon cheeseburger that is made with sautéed portabella mushrooms instead of the usual canned button ones.
"Consumers are exposed to a lot more these days with the Food Channel and food blogs, and the more exposed they are to new flavors, textures and ingredients, the more they demand and expect from every restaurant they visit," says Lori Estrada, culinary vice president at Wendy's.
But does this mean that fast food prices will go up? Not necessarily. Sbarro Chief Executive James Greco told the Wall Street Journal that the price of the new pizza hasn’t changed.
McDonald’s is considered the forerunner of this trend with its addition of oatmeal, smoothies and salads to the menu. Even Burger King, which balked at jumping on the upscale bandwagon, has introduced sandwich wraps and frappes.