Americans are used to a fast-paced way of life. In a society that thrives on being “busy,” the average American is spread thin, often putting work and social commitments before other necessities. So it comes as no surprise that as a culture, we’ve become obsessed with fast food over the last several decades. Today, “more than 160,000 fast- food restaurants feed more than 50 million Americans each and every day, generating sales of more than $110 billion dollars annually,” OnGreenPlanet.org reports. Cheap and convenient, a traditional burger and fries has quickly become the go-to for the busy commuter trying to sneak in a quick bite in between meetings or before picking up the kids from school.
The only problem — fast food is extremely unhealthy and more people are starting to realize it.
Thanks to the Internet and popular documentaries like Fed Up and Fat Sick & Nearly Dead, we’ve become acutely aware of the correlation between diseases like cancer, diabetes and hypertension and the large amounts of processed (a.k.a. fast food) we consume. This has created the growing demand for more fresh food options that are also convenient, even if people have to pay a little more for it.
A 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey, which polled over 3,000 individuals, found that 88 percent of respondents were willing to pay more for healthy food. And with a spike in customers navigating food allergies or wanting gluten-free and non-GMO fare, the demand for healthier food options continues to grow. Global sales of healthy food products, in fact, are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017, according to Euromonitor.
“While economic concerns remain in the forefront for consumers, health and wellness concerns continue to increase in importance,” notes James Russo, SVP of Global Consumer Insights at Nielsen.
So what if restaurants could meet the demand for healthy foods, without sacrificing the convenience of a fast food chain with a drive-thru? Well, we’d say you could have yourself a recipe for success. In fact, here are just a few brands embracing the healthy drive-thru revolution and tapping into a growing segment of customers desperately searching for healthier fast food options.
Amy’s Drive Thru
Known for its organic, non-GMO and vegetarian/vegan frozen food options, Amy’s Kitchen has been changing the way we shop for healthy food since this brand launched its very first product -- a frozen vegetable pot pie -- in the late ‘80s. Now the best-selling purveyor of wholesome frozen foods is looking to change the game once again with a new restaurant in California.
The new Amy’s Organic Drive-Thru restaurant, located in Rohnert Park, California, features an entirely vegetarian menu.
“We feel it is important to know where our food comes from,” Amy’s shared on its website. “We have earned a reputation in the farming community as the company with the most rigid standards for quality and consistency. This is as it should be.”
According to a report by KOIN 6, the restaurant provides non-GMO, organic, gluten free and vegan options for those looking for cleaner-eating on the go. The menu, which includes items like the Amy’s Veggie Burger served with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles; vegan mac’ and cheese; burrito bowls; and organic soups; are made with all natural ingredients and dairy sourced “from the farm around the corner.” In addition, the menu is peanut- and egg-free. What’s even better, nothing on the menu is priced over $9.
Since opening last summer, business at Amy’s Drive Thru has been booming, with one report saying that demand is so high, many customers have waited up to 20 minutes in line.
Joining the growing number of healthy restaurants popping up around the Magic City, former Miami Heat star Ray Allen and his wife Shannon, a cooking show host, recently opened up Miami’s first organic fast-food restaurant.
The concept, called Grown, was inspired by the couple’s son Walker, who struggles with Type 1 diabetes. “Like most busy families, we juggle homework, after-school sports, and everyday commitments — we live in our cars,” Shannon told Miami New Times. “I had an aha moment where I realized I couldn’t sit around helpless waiting for someone else to create a fast-food option that met our family’s dietary needs."
Opened since April 2016, Grown has already racked up over 11,000 Facebook likes and a 4.5 star rating with over 100 reviews. The restaurant’s health-centric menu is crafted from local ingredients and features natural smoothies, fresh pressed juices, salads, wraps, and rice bowls, as well as breakfast menu items like gluten-free pancakes and avocado toast.
Salad and Go
With six locations in Arizona (all which launched over the last year), this new kid on the block is on a mission to change the fast food industry as we know it.
"We know that so many of those people eating from traditional drive-thru fast food are forced to go there, because they, just like me, needed something convenient and affordable, and that was their only option," Salad and Gi's cofounder, Roushan Christofellis, told Business Insider.
The menu features 48-ounce salads, all priced between about $6-$9, depending on whether you add protein like chicken, steak or shrimp. There’s also soups, smoothies and breakfast items, which average about $4. What’s the secret to Salad and Go’s ultra cheap menu? Because none of the chain’s 650-sq.-ft. locations have dining rooms, operational costs are lower than average, and as a result keeps the salad here very affordable.
It’s no wonder the brand is expanding at a rapid pace — with eight more locations in Arizona planned for 2017 — and getting national attention, including in PopSugar, Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, and Washington Post, to name a few.