A natural progression for fast-food chains

by Monica Watrous
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Carl's Jr. is debuting a grass-fed, free-range beef patty.

CARPINTERIA, CALIF. — Carl’s Jr. claims to be the first fast-food chain to offer a natural beef patty with the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, made with a grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. The sandwich features the charbroiled patty topped with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, red onion, lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise on the chain’s signature fresh-baked bun.

The company said the burger comes in response to a growing demand for “cleaner” food, particularly among millennials. Two in five consumers cite a rising concern over food additives, according to recent research from Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based firm.

“Greater awareness for health and wellness is driving the growth in healthful menu items, yet our research indicates that the majority of consumers still opt for more indulgent food,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “The push and pull between healthfulness and indulgence makes an All-Natural Burger on-trend.

“All-natural products also have a ‘health halo’ impact and often help consumers feel confident that they are getting a product better for them and from a source they can feel good about.”

Sixty-two per cent of consumers believe restaurants are able to offer items that are both healthy and delicious, Technomic said. Health claims that convey wholesome or pure ingredients, such as fresh or unprocessed, resonate strongly with restaurant patrons. Among the fastest growing health claims on menus at top chains are “natural” and “naturally raised.”

Consumers say they are more likely to buy healthy items from fast-casual and casual-dining concepts, according to Technomic. But more fast-food chains are adding products with natural positioning.

Chick-fil-A, for example, this year announced plans to serve antibiotic-free chicken in all of its restaurants within five years. The chicken chain also recently removed artificial ingredients from its chicken soup and buns.

“Menu transparency is imperative and can help drive sales of healthy options,” said Sara Monnette, senior director of consumer insights and innovation at Technomic. “Telling an ingredient’s story – whether it’s farm-raised, local or G.M.O.-free, for instance, can directly impact consumer decisions about what to order and where to dine.”

Carl’s Jr.’s new burger will be available at participating locations for $4.69 for a single patty and $6.99 for a double patty starting Dec. 17.
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