We've seen a gradual movement for some time now toward people increasingly caring about what's in the food they eat. It's played out on fast-food menus over the years in things like a wider variety of creative salad selections, sides that aren't fries, and more beverage choices that aren't soft drinks.
And while most people probably don't expect their occasional fast-food hamburger to be super healthy, an increasing number are beginning to object to some of the more questionable ingredients. In response, Burger King, which is part of Restaurant Brands International (NYSE: QSR), has announced that it's banning 120 artificial ingredients from its menu.
Let's review the recent history of public interest in fast-food ingredients and look at the potential real estate investor impact of addressing those concerns.
Wait -- I'm eating what?
Even people trying to eat healthy often consider an occasional "cheat meal" acceptable. All things in moderation, right? And that used to mean indulging a fast-food craving from time to time. But for many health-conscious diners, that was back when they assumed the unhealthiest things they were picking up in the drive-thru were too many carbs and calories and an extra helping of fat.
Back in 2014, Food Babe blogger Vani Hari made headlines when she called out Subway for presenting itself as a healthy fast-food alternative while using a chemical called azodicarbonamide in its bread. She pointed out that the chemical, used to make rubbery objects like yoga mats and shoe soles, is banned for food use in many parts of the world because of its potential health consequences. More than 50,000 petition signatures later, Subway announced that it was already in the process of removing the ingredient.
The following year, fast-casual restaurant Panera Bread announced it was banning a list of 150-plus artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colorings, and flavors. Subway soon followed with a similar announcement about its remaining artificial ingredients. It was also in 2015 that the FDA ruled artificial trans fats unsafe and announced its plan to phase them out of American food products entirely.
At first glance, a move like eliminating artificial ingredients may make more sense for a higher-end establishment like Panera than for Burger King. But as an increasing number of diners become aware of these ingredients and begin rejecting them, fewer may be willing to eat them in any quantity.
The Millionacres bottom line
It's worth noting that artificial ingredient concerns aren't exactly sinking the fast food industry as we speak. You've likely seen evidence of this yourself in long drive-thru lines near you. On the contrary, the biggest problem most fast-food restaurants are facing right now is a labor shortage.
But why wait to stop serving these items until after the pool of customers willing to consume them shrinks significantly? Burger King is using a forward-looking strategy to promote customer growth and retention instead -- and that's good news for real estate investors.
Sure, trends come and go. But it seems unlikely that consumers will ultimately decide they prefer the idea of eating food that may or not even be, well, food.