The Healthy Fast Casual Challenge: Good For You vs. Good Taste

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Celebrity chefs are taking on the healthy fast casual challenge: how will the food service industry keep up with the consumer demand for good-for-you food without sacrificing the good tastes they love? On top of that, these hungry mouths want it fast, want it fresh and want it on a frugal budget. 

"Make it better for me, but I don't want to give anything up. I want less salt, no antibiotics, no trans-fats, more fruits, more veggies. I don't go out to restaurants to give stuff up; I go to restaurants to be tantalized," Greg Dollarhyde, CEO of Veggie Grill, said to summarize the modern-day customer.

That's a tall order, but the fast casual segment is ready to dish out. With the support of celebrity chefs and the farm-to-table trend that is popularizing across the nation, sales at healthy fast casual chains totaled an estimated $384 million in 2014 -- almost a 30 percent increase from the previous year. 

Rather than choosing foods based on what's being left out, such as fat, sodium and carbs, most people are choosing foods on the benefits added in, such as antioxidants and omega-3s. Fast casual restaurants are responding to this switch from avoidance diet to add-in diet by packing in the locally-sourced vegetables, grains and meats.

The marketing message is earth-friendly. Rather than alienating customers by labelling themselves with terms such as vegan or vegetarian, restaurants prefer catchy phrases like "veggie-centric."

How else has fast casual responded to this desire for "honest foods"? Read More