Fast food can be clean food – and Australian’s are leading the way

Consumer preferences are rapidly driving food industry change and defining success in the new fast food industry. Traditional fast food chains are rushing to meet the new expectations of consumers. However, companies like Australia’s Guzman y Gomez have driven success by focusing on consumers’ desire for good quality as their point of difference from the start – and now they are taking it to the heart of fast food territory – the US itself.

Guzman y Gomez founder, Steven Marks, said in a SmartCompany interview in 2016, “I don’t want to put McDonald’s out of business, I want them to change and I want to lead the way.” And that is exactly what the Australian Mexican food franchise has dine – after enormous success in the Australian market, Marks has recently started opening franchises in the US, where the enormous fast food market demands ever increasing improvements in the quality and healthiness of their food purchases.

Consumer demand for healthy food which is just as accessible and affordable as traditional “drive-thru” fast food is increasing dramatically in affluent societies, including the US, Europe and, of course, Australia. Consumers want food which has less calories, is less processed and is sourced more locally, even organic if it is practical.

This shifting trend in consumer expectation is also forcing traditional fast food retailers to dramatically reshape the way they prepare and present food, from the core ingredients through to meal types and packaging. And the legacy brands need to make these changes in order to keep up. From Taco Bell in the US committing to cut artificial ingredients and use cage free eggs, to McDonalds working with dieticians and sourcing antibiotic-free chicken, as well as increasing the number of salads on its menus.

The increasing demand for clean food is more than just a trend, it’s movement, driven by increasing consumer awareness and willingness to exercise their purchasing power by moving it to healthier options. And the irony is that, while US-based giant fast food chains like McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and KFC have dominated the Australian and European fast-food sector for a couple of generations, they are now under increasing pressure in their own heartland. With chains like Australia’s Guzman y Gomez and the UK’s Leon – which sells wraps, salads, sandwiches and bowls made from fresh ingredients moving into the American market, and local competitors such as Salad and Go and LYFE Kitchen (backed by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef), the fast food sector is changing rapidly and is unlikely to revert.

No-one is going to suggest that fried chicken, the Whopper or the Quarter-pounder are going to start disappearing from menus any time soon. But what we can expect to see, on the back of the success of outlets like Guzman y Gomez – focused on fresh, high quality ingredients and exemplary customer service, is an inexorable raising of the bar when it comes to the quality of ingredients and the way food is prepared and presented. And that can only be a good thing for us as consumers.