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Is Fast Food Slowing Down? Five Growing Trends in Restaurants Today

Food trends in the United States seem to come and go quickly. Today’s kale obsession will be gone as quickly as yesterday’s all-protein diet. However, through it all, the American people have remained loyal to their numerous fast food chains. But even in this once dominant industry, changes are afoot, with a number of current trends affecting this formerly unflappable business. Recently an article in The Motley Fool highlighted this growing phenomenon in an article entitled “Fast-Casual Isn’t the Only Thing Killing Fast Food” here are some of the ideas presented.

From Fast to Healthy Casual

Fast Food TodayAmericans’ taste preferences over the past few years have shifted away from fast food and towards healthier, but still casual, alternatives. Although McDonalds [NYSE: MCD] Burger King [NYSE: BKW], and their ilk have seen a dramatic slowing in their sales, competitors like Panera Bread  [NASDAQ: PNRA],  Chipotle [NYSE: CMG] and in the west, Cafe Zupas have stolen market share by offering options with more natural ingredients and more vegetables. Most of these new chains are also working with bakeries to get fresh ingredients into items like buns and rolls. Regional companies like Klosterman Baking Company are aiding in this trend with their offerings of specialty buns like Potato Buns, Rye Buns, 7 Grain Buns, and Onion Buns.

The Search for the Better Burger is Over

A few years ago, it seemed that each chain was trying to outdo the other by offering a higher quality burger than their competitor. Perhaps begun by Carl’s Jr.’s success with the Six Dollar Burger, chains began to test better and better burgers. For a time it worked, spawning great success for quality burger chains like Five Guys and Smash Burger. But now it seems national taste buds have shifted toward a humble bird.

Chicken is the New Burger

In recent years, Chick-Fil-A has seen explosive growth, going from a regional chain to the top chicken chain in the country, all the while still only being open six days a week. Other chains were quick to take notice of chicken’s surge in popularity, with Burger King adding chicken fries, KFC adding regional tastes like its new Nashville Hot Chicken, and even Taco Bell creating a fried chicken taco shell with its new Naked Chicken Chalupa.

Just a Dollar?

Even with an improving economy, Americans love a bargain, and each chain’s dollar or value menu has proved a popular draw (but not a big moneymaker). To fight against the customer who steps in for a single dollar item, most chains now bundle their value offerings together, offering four or five items for as many dollars.

Everyone Watches the Clown

Though their crown as the top fast food restaurant has been stolen by Subway, McDonald’s still sets the conversation for most fast food chains, and 2016 is no different. As they remove all artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, expect pressure to build other competitors to do the same.

Whether fast food moves from meals to snacks or ingredients continue to change, there will always be room for fast food on the American palate. Just as today’s landscape looks vastly different than 20 years ago, the fast food and casual dining experience a generation from now will change in ways we can barely anticipate now.

About the Author:

“Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information, you can contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.”

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