A new report from National Restaurant News reports that the biggest issue, the biggest change, and the biggest challenge for franchise (and other) restaurants is not the minimum wage or the joint employer definition. Instead, it’s a consumer-driven revolution taking place across the nation.
Americans are starting to care about the ingredients in their food to a much greater degree. In fact, they care so much about sourcing that their demands for change can’t be ignored.
- Clean Eating is a trend focusing on fresh, unprocessed foods without lots of added salt, fat, and sugar. That doesn’t describe that popular bacon double cheeseburger, but it is an emerging trend with an increasing number of devotees. Nutritionists point out that some natural foods, such as red meats, may not offer the nutritional benefits of other natural foods, like broccoli.
- Sustainable sourcing asks franchisees to make sure they buy ingredients that are raised in eco-friendly and socially responsible ways. Some of the issues here include the amount of fertilizer and pesticides used, the treatment of farm workers, and the way farming methods affect soil.
- No antibiotics in the meat used in restaurants is a high priority for many. People are unsure about the safety of meat raised with antibiotics, but the biggest issue is the possibility that eating such meat can make the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria more serious. Improper use of antibiotics by humans has already led to many resistant strains of diseases. Farmers feed antibiotics to their animals because it causes them to gain weight faster, so they’re ready for the market sooner.
- No GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is one of the most controversial demands. While the U.S. government does not believe that GMOs are dangerous, many European countries ban them. Some consumers consider this evidence that GMOs are still not proven safe, no matter what the U.S. government says.
- Gluten-free diets allow no wheat, which can be challenging not only for breads and pizza crusts and baked desserts, but also for sauces, soups, and even salad dressings. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten, but many more Americans avoid gluten because they believe that doing so helps with weight loss or because they feel that they are sensitive to gluten in other ways.
While some franchises have gone along with all these demands whole-heartedly, it’s not always that simple. People who remember the oat bran craze may wonder whether gluten sensitivity will vanish just as quickly as oat bran mania did. Consumers care about ethical and sustainable sourcing, but most don’t care enough to pay for higher costs. And the popularity of Clean Eating hasn’t made a big difference in the ration of salad sales to french fry sales — more people talk the talk than walk the walk, and consumers seem to prefer to be a bit indulgent right along with being a more healthy eater.
If you’re thinking about investing in a restaurant franchise, though, it’s a good plan to ask where the company is on these changes. They may not all be embraced by all restaurants, but they probably shouldn’t be ignored.