Consumers want their food healthy and fast

CONSUMERS are forcing major take-away chains to offer more choices and a greater variety of healthy food items.

The appearance of salads, wraps, and baguettes at some of the world’s major fast-food chains has been brought about by a change in consumers’ eating habits, a change that has led to the growth of rival ‘healthy’ franchises. 

Subway is a prime example of how the take-away market has swung towards the healthy option.

The chain’s earnings this year (measured by average unit volume) doubled and plans are under way to open a further 12 stores in WA next year.

If that expansion takes place there will be more Subway stores than McDonald’s stores in WA.

According to Subway development manager WA Martin Koehne, significant market growth began two years ago and market indications suggest that the chain’s sales will continue to expand.

“At the beginning of 2001 the market really did favour healthy eating,” Mr Koehne said.

“We experienced pretty much no growth for 13 years and then at the end of 2001 it grew significantly.

“There was no real growth in terms of average unit volume. We built more stores but it was flat growth.

“In 2001 though, we grew by 20 per cent by average unit volume. We are now 50 per cent above the last figure.”

That growth has not gone unnoticed by Subway’s rival fast-food chains with most of the major outlets offering new product choices that include salads and sandwiches.

Chicken Treat launched its Fresh Express stores concept in 2000 and now, with three operating in WA, has applied some of its Fresh Express products to metropolitan stores. Baguettes can now be purchased in all metro Chicken Treat stores, a product arrival that will be backed by a marketing campaign later this year.

Red Rooster launched its Fresh Sub 97 earlier this month, even though the product was taken off the menu after a period of sales last summer.

Australian Fast Foods marketing manager – responsible for the Chicken Treat and Red Rooster operations – Kevin Leavy said the market was now ripe for healthy choice offerings.

“For quite a number of years we have put healthy alternative products into the market and they haven’t been big sales winners,” he said. “What has happened, though, in recent times, is that all the brands are searching for new products to find new growth. As distribution becomes mature they start to look for new products.

“Out of that is the emergence of brands such as Subway.”

Mr Leavy said consumers’ decision to opt for healthier food was part of a conscious effort to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

“That consumer swing means that we can, with confidence, offer healthier, tastier choices,” he said.

Hungry Jack’s is currently trialling the sale of salads in its Victorian stores and, if successful, will roll them out nationally.

KFC WA/NT general manager John Castillo said the company had introduced ‘twists’, which offered healthier bread and more salad, and would release other products in 18 months’ time.

While consumers’ purchasing choices are forcing the big end of the franchise world to sit up and take notice, at the same time the trend has allowed those outlets already positioned as healthy providers to expand their operations significantly.

Nando’s Australia has opened several stores each year for the past three years, and according to national marketing manager Carlos Antonius, the company will continue to do so.

“We opened three this year. They were Leederville, Applecross and Midland. The previous year we opened Malaga, Joondalup, Nedlands, and Innaloo,” Mr Antonius said.  “In 2000 we opened Morley, Metro Food Court, Glengarry and Victoria Park.”

Cafes, too, are noticing the shift in eating habits and are likewise offering more healthy products.

Pure and Natural master franchisee Shane Stewart said the company would continue to expand into new markets.

He said the chain was established in 12 major shopping centres and would now move into street-front stores.

“We recently opened our first strip location in Fremantle,” Mr Stewart told WA Business News.

Although the franchise had operated in WA for nine years, it had experienced its strongest growth in recent years, he said.

“If you track the growth certainly it has doubled in the last two to three years,” Mr Stewart said.

Aroma Cafes director Rob Mule said the  said.

“When we first started [in 1996] we had it 50/50. Now we don’t have any pasties or pies or any of that sort of stuff.

“The healthier side, the fillings, the salads and the like have been strong. In the last couple of weeks we introduced more salads and yoghurts.”

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