When Wendy's discontinued its selection of fruit bowls and cups only 10 months after a much-ballyhooed launch, newspaper headlines around the country read "Wendy's Abandons Healthy Options" and "Fast-Food Eaters Stick With Greasy Fare."
It wasn't exactly the spin that Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini was looking for.
Those headlines were "way overblown," he recalled, citing the recent addition of low-fat strawberry yogurt to Wendy's value menu, and the new salads the company is planning for 2006.
The poor performance of these fruit salads does beg the question. Is anyone - other than litigious customers and documentary filmmakers - really expecting the quick-service restaurant industry to produce health food?
"The restaurant industry is not the growth industry it was during the 1980s and 1990s," mused Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, noting that salad bars had been added to, and then removed from, many QSRs in the 1980s. "What we're seeing in this environment is a lot of new things being tried - a lot of innovation because something has to be done to attract consumers again."
In that regard, expect to see QSRs continue to experiment aggressively with both healthy and indulgent new menu options. After all, a great new salad might raise a fast food chain's standing among the nation's legions of soccer moms, but according to Balzer, it's good old-fashioned fried chicken that remains one of the fastest-growing foods in the restaurant industry today.