Mad Mex, Sushi Sushi explains why healthy food items are now a staple on the menu
Consumer awareness is now dictating the norm.
Before the end of 2023, the QSR industry saw more brands like vegan fast food Mr Charlie and superfood brand Nautical Bowls eyeing Australia as their next opportunity for market expansion, driven by increasing demand for healthier options.
This is supported by recent research by an online food ordering platform found that more than two out of five (43%) of Aussies are considering going vegan or vegetarian in 2024, either for the whole year or as part of Veganuary.
But what are QSRs seeing on the ground?
“Fast food options are no longer acceptable if they don’t also offer healthy choices,” Mad Mex CEO Therese Frangie told QSR Media when asked what changes she has noticed in the past five years when it comes to the topic of healthy food.
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Therese added that they noticed two things with its consumer base. First is that today’s consumers are more knowledgeable about their dietary choices and are more vocal in demanding transparency and quality from food brands. Second is that plant-based menu options are rising, propelled by growing health and environmental awareness.
“This shift has led to an increased variety of healthier, plant-based fast food choices, catering to a diverse range of dietary preferences and lifestyles,” Therese said.
She said Mad Mex answered the demand for more plant-based menu items by ensuring they always have at least two readily available for customers such as their Mexicali Mince and the Veggie Veracruz.
Meanwhile, Sushi Sushi took note of the “hype” around plant-based meat alternatives. At the same time, the brand saw a shift in customer preferences towards more authentic and diverse healthy choices.
“Whilst plant-based meat and seafood alternatives gained initial traction, customers are now looking for a more authentic and diverse range of healthy choices. In response to this evolving trend, we’ve reworked our cabinet planograms, ensuring that our colourful, nutritious vegetable and plant-based options are front and centre,” Stephen Anders, CEO of Sushi Sushi said.
Balancing speed and health
A study published by Griffith University in 2023 said 32.2% of Australians surveyed have reduced their meat consumption over the last 12 months. Amongst those, the majority indicated that they aspire to follow plant-forward diets.
This classification includes participants who aspire to have some plant-based meals in an omnivorous diet, those who are interested in following a mostly plant-based diet, and those who aspire to follow a completely plant-based diet.
Of the remaining participants, 14.3% are interested in trying new products and/or enjoying variety in their diet.
Restaurants play a very important role in this demand because almost three in five or 58.6% of Australians surveyed by the study said they rely mostly on restaurants and stores to discover plant-based food offerings.
On the ground, QSR operators like Mad Mex see that consumers seek a balance between speed and health.
“Consumers now expect comprehensive information about the ingredients and nutritional value of their meals. The ability to customise these meals to individual preferences and dietary requirements has become a key factor in their choice of fast food,” Therese said.
“This change reflects a growing awareness of health and wellness, as well as a desire for flexibility and variety in fast food options,” she added.
Awareness and transparency on the rise
A secondary trend rising from the demand for healthy fast food is that consumers are getting more curious about the ingredients of the products they consume and demand an additional layer of accountability from food brands.
“Customers now expect not just variety but also quality and information about what they consume. Transparency is very important to us at Mad Mex; thus, our recipes and nutritional information are openly available to customers,” Therese said.
Mad Mex’s in-restaurant ordering format, for instance, allows customers to watch meals prepared, offering a chance for consumers to engage staff and customise orders ensuring a higher rate of customer satisfaction.
Sushi Sushi, meanwhile, noticed that their customers crave authenticity. “Our customers aren’t into gimmick NPD [new product development] so we’ve purposely created a calendar for 2024 that will deliver an experience which resonates with our customers appreciation for authentic, premium Japanese ingredients,” said Stephen, noting their focus on appealing to the majority of Sushi Sushi’s customer base.
“Sustainability is a cornerstone of our strategy and we are actively working to reduce our footprint whilst also developing industry-leading best practices to guide the sushi category,” Stephen told QSR Media. “This involves sourcing ingredients responsibly, minimising food waste and exploring packaging solutions that reduce our environmental footprint.”