Ditching McDonald’s for Healthy Eating at Chipotle?

It’s no secret that McDonald’s had a terrible year in 2014. Sales are sputtering and they fired their CEO after less than three years on the job. Some observers attribute their troubles to losing relevance with millennials who are more conscious about healthy eating.

Obama at ChipotleFast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera seem to be prospering at McDonald’s expense. According to the Euromonitor research service, the market for fast casual restaurants has grown by 550 percent since 1999.

Chipotle has become the prototype for a successful fast casual chain. Any doubt of its status as a cultural phenomenon was erased when President Obama’s visit there became a meme as he reached over the sneeze guard in what Stephen Colbert dubbed “shocking breech of Chipotle etiquette” — more presidential overreach.

NY Times - Chipotle CaloriesChipotle and other fast casual restaurants have claimed their fame by offering authentic, higher quality food. Chipotle promises meats produced humanely and without antibiotics. They promise fresh “food with integrity.” Consumers have inferred that it means healthier food, even though though they are not really having healthier meals there. A recent New York Times analysis found that a typical order at Chipotle delivered more than a thousand calories, along with a big load of sodium and saturated fat.

McDonald’s — once an investor in Chipotle — seems to be taking a cue. This week they announced that it’s phasing out all antibiotics in the chicken it serves. While Chipotle may have started this move, McDonald’s will certainly have a bigger impact, because it is one of the biggest purchasers of poultry in the U.S.

New McDonald’s advertising focused on the Big Mac delivers a message of authenticity, saying it’s “not Greek yogurt.” It might work for their business prospects. Financial analysts at RBC upgraded their expectations for McDonald’s stock this week to outperform the market.

And so it seems that we take one step forward and two steps back in the healthfulness of food offerings at restaurants. Public awareness and consumer expectations can help, but they can also cut both ways.

We have a long way to go on portion sizes in mainstream restaurants.

Click here and here to read more from the New York Times and here to read more about millennials falling out of love with McDonald’s.

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2 Responses to “Ditching McDonald’s for Healthy Eating at Chipotle?”

  1. March 07, 2015 at 8:22 am, deirdre said:

    I recently considered ordering a meal at Chipotle that I would consider low in calories. It was hypothetical really because I don’t eat at FFR or Fast Casual. Anyways, I wanted to share. The choices we make – eg a 1 oz sauce, can add 100 calories, and most people are not going to put the kind of thought into ordering a meal as I would.

    • March 08, 2015 at 6:22 am, Ted said:

      I agree with you completely, Deirdre. Most people are nudged, for better or worse, by the menu.