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Is this the future of fast food? Three health-conscious brands to watch.

Posted by: Miriam Stone on September 27, 2013

The trend toward healthier fast food is officially here. This week, McDonald’s committed to asking value meal customers if they’d like a side salad, fruit or vegetable instead of fries, and Burger King announced it will be offering lower-fat French fries. In the quick-service space, the success of companies like Chipotle and Panera has paved the way for a growing crop of health-conscious brands. Which ones are starting to stand out from the pack? Here are our top picks, and what they’re doing right:

Making it Manly
New Jersey-based Muscle Maker Grill is carving out a niche with a clear target – men who want to look beefy, but not eat all that beef. Salads and fruit smoothies sit on the menu alongside protein shakes and dude-centric fare like the “Rocky Balboa Wrap.” Even the logo, a big red oval reminiscent of a boxing championship belt, stands out from the green, leafy visuals that typically dominate healthy menus.

Muscle Maker Grill
Muscle Maker grill offers dude-centric, health-conscious fare
Image from www.sgw.com

Making it Familiar
As the flexitarian trend takes hold, people are looking for ways to go meatless without feeling like they’ve had to make a sacrifice. The all-vegan Veggie Grill taps into this desire by featuring vegetarian versions of familiar foods, such as the Carne Asada Burger and the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’, which the LA times called “uncannily close to their carnivore cousins.” With a bold orange color palate and photos of overstuffed burgers that rival Burger King’s, Veggie Grill is a brand that lets you have it all.

Veggie Grill 
Veggie Grill makes vegan food look familiar and mouth-watering
Image from Zagat.com

Making it About More than Just Food
What’s a salad chain with 20 locations in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast doing hosting a music festival for over 20,000 people? For Sweetgreen, it’s a natural extension of their brand, which has always been about connecting with people through food. From cultivating relationships with local farmers, to hosting block parties, to providing food education in schools, Sweetgreen is driven by their purpose. For this fast-food chain’s loyal customers, Sweetgreen is more than just healthy food—it’s a lifestyle.

This year's Sweetlife festival, hosted by Sweetgreen, attracted more than 20,000 people
Image from bizbash.com

Have you noticed other restaurants building strong, differentiated brands in the healthy fast food space?

Miriam Stone is Senior Consultant, Strategy at Interbrand San Francisco.

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