Quick-service operators have a tough task promoting themselves in a market where consumers are increasingly concerned with keeping to a balanced diet. This year began with new healthy eating–based marketing campaigns—a renewed interest in a trend that had taken a backseat to promoting price and value for a while.

While healthy eating is far from a new trend, the National Restaurant Association reports that 73 percent of adults say they try to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago. Furthermore, as eating out on the go becomes an ever-increasing part of consumers’ busy lifestyles, so too does quick service’s contribution to national health and, consequently, pressure on the sector increases.

Recent mandates for restaurants to post calorie content on menus could significantly change how consumers behave and consume, so it is important to figure out how to position and market a brand now before it becomes widespread. Furthermore, mothers will always remain key decision makers when eating out, and a healthier image could be the deal breaker when they decide which brand to eat at.

As such, we have seen healthy eating become a central part of marketing strategies, with key trends including improving brand transparency, not deviating too far from the core business, targeting the right consumer, and stepping up the use of endorsements to build trust.

With the publishing of calorific and nutritional information increasingly available, quick service has to factor this into company strategy. It is now actively directing consumers to healthier parts of the menu—Quiznos, for example, promotes 20 sandwiches under 500 calories—to avoid consumers giving up on fast food altogether.

Subway built its brand from a healthy standpoint and used Jared Fogle and now the Biggest Loser winner as spokespeople, and brands are following in its footsteps by using endorsements to add weight to their marketing. For example, several years ago it would have been surprising to hear McDonald’s promote some of its meals as part of the Weight Watchers points system, but it is something the company is rolling out in New Zealand at the moment. Taco Bell is fronting its latest campaign with a customer who dropped 54 pounds by switching to its Fresco line. And Jack in the Box chose to include an endorsement by HealthyDiningFinder.com standards for its latest salad.

Brand transparency is another key strategy implemented in recent years, particularly by market leader McDonald’s. This has been central to its Plan To Win strategy and turnaround since the early 2000s. The burger chain concerned itself with promoting food quality as much as calorie counting, as preconceived perceptions about its food led many a consumer to think the food was bad for them. It introduced a range of initiatives that other operators could learn from, including online activity dedicated to communicating how and where it sources its food. It also gives consumers the chance to find out about any aspect of the business with a question-and-answer Web page, making sure it replies to everybody, no matter the question.

It is also crucial to direct marketing towards the right people in the right way, with females and mothers still being the key target. Mothers often order nothing or very little for themselves while their children eat at quick serves, so expanding the menu to include smaller snack items with lower calorific values or new healthier menu ranges could actually act as a significant check booster.

We have seen healthy eating become a central part of marketing strategies, with key trends including improving brand transparency, targeting the right consumer, and stepping up the use of endorsements to build trust.

McDonald’s ran a successful “Moms Correspondents” campaign that allowed real mothers to see its supply chain from farm to restaurant firsthand and report back. Meanwhile, Burger King shrewdly promoted its Apple Fries through the retail channel, a move that put the product in front of mothers and hopes to convince them that Burger King restaurants are worth visiting.

It is also very important to keep focused on the core of the business. Quick-service consumers, now more than ever, want to get more for their dollar, and quite often the bigger the portion the better. Sometimes focusing too much on promoting low-calorie products can lead to the perception of smaller, less-filling portions.

Carl’s Jr., which relies on an image of big hearty burgers, cleverly adopted the strategy with its new salads. Like its other marketing campaigns that have been created around the notion that sex sells, it flaunted its salads with Kim Kardashian fronting the campaign. Expanding its consumer base with more females is one of the reasons for adding salads, so Kardashian’s popularity among females as well as males was crucial for them to make this campaign successful.

Operators like CKE haven’t traditionally jumped on the healthy eating bandwagon, so the very fact that Carl’s Jr.’s salads are now the focus of a major campaign is an indication that all quick serves have recognized they cannot afford to ignore the trend.

Marketing & Promotions, Story, Carl's Jr., McDonald's, Quiznos, Subway