When the alternative is a thick milkshake smothered in whipped cream, Chick-fil-A’s newest offering is a step up the healthiness ladder.
The privately-held Atlanta-based fast food chain – known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries – will soon introduce a yogurt parfait for customers who want lower-fat breakfasts and snacks.
Tofu, this is not. The 240-calorie parfait, on sale Jan. 4, is a concoction of strawberry slices, vanilla yogurt and granola or chocolate cookie crumbs.
The low-key item isn't expected to supplant Chick-fil-A's mainstay chicken. But it’s a sign the company is evolving along with its customer base, said William "Woody" Faulk, vice president of brand strategy and design.
Diners want a broader range of nutritional choices, he said. The yogurt parfait may fill a need among customers who have been to the doctor – or to the gym – and have been encouraged to adjust their diets. In that environment, “all-fried, all the time is not sustainable” for a restaurant chain, said Faulk.
Chick-fil-A is beginning to see a slight shift towards healthier buying, said Faulk. Perhaps that's because baby boomers are watching their calories, and youngsters in Generation Y have been raised to gravitate towards healthy options such as organic food.
In response to those trends, competitors have revamped their menus. McDonald's, for example, offers apple slices along with its French fries. Fast food places including Chick-fil-A offer a variety of salads, as well as chicken sandwiches that are grilled, not breaded.
But many consumers still have trouble putting good dietary intentions into actions. Many Americans “talk a big game about health,” but the food items most consumed in U.S. restaurants are hamburgers, followed by French fries, said Harry Balzer, vice president at consumer research firm NPD Group.
"What we’ve been taught for years is, people talk nutrition, but they buy taste," said Chick-fil-A’s Faulk. "When they get up to the counter and nobody’s looking, they order what they think tastes good. It’s been true for years."
So, the eventual draw of low-fat yogurt among Chick-fil-A’s customers remains to be seen. In any case, the company envisions additional healthy offerings in coming years. But new roll-outs will probably follow the company’s philosophy of menu permanence, meaning new items will be few and far between.
"We don’t like putting something on the menu that we have to take off in a few months," said Faulk.
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