When the chain introduced fruit cups and bowls as additions to its often fat-laden menu, it was heralded as a breakthrough move to give patrons more healthful options. But despite a $20 million promotional push for its snack-size, fresh-cut cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and grapes, sales have not been fruitful enough to sustain the menu item. And so fruit figures to be the next healthful menu item to be consigned to the fast-food catacombs.
"We had high hopes it would strike a responsive chord with consumers," said Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior VP-communications, and "initially it did." In fact, in March Wendy's CEO Jack Schuessler said the company was selling a million pounds of fruit a week.
Fruit frenzy fizzles
But consumers quickly came off their fruit frenzy. Today, "we're just not getting the frequency of sales that are needed to maintain the quality standards of the product," said Mr. Lynch. Wendy's ended up dumping out unsold fruit nightly, since it did not contain preservatives. "The consumer is saying they're not going to eat fruit on a daily basis or not going to eat it at QSR [quick-service restaurants] on a regular basis," said Mr. Lynch.
That's comes as no real surprise to industry watchers, who said that sales aren't always the point. "I don't think McDonald's McLean Deluxe ever sold more than 1% of menu sales," said Dennis Lombardi, exec VP-food service strategies for WD Partners. "It means more than profit. It might be something that helps stop the veto vote, or it might be because [fast-feeders] have need or desire to provide better-for-consumers food as part of their philosophy. [Regulators] are some of it but they're not the driving force," he said.
In fact, McDonald's, although offering its restaurants in Wal-Mart the option to drop its Fruit & Walnut Salad, is keeping the product on its core menu, and a company memo dated Nov. 1 from Don Thompson to the U.S. McDonald's system indicates why. "The Fruit and Walnut Salad, along with our other salad offerings and quality menu options, have served as valuable assets in the public debate on obesity and have raised the public awareness and perception of our food quality. As a leader in the food industry we have been praised for our commitment in providing our customer with an array of choices that fit their lifestyle."
A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company has "seen tremendous response from our customer for Apple Dippers, Fruit & Walnut salads and Fruit `N Yogurt Parfaits. They continue to resonate with our customers and there's more to come in the product pipeline."
doubled health claims
Wendy's Mr. Lynch downplayed the fruit failure as a sign of consumers' hypocrisy toward so-called good-for-you foods. "Is that any different than the percent of [general] products that don't make it? Does healthier or good-for-you have a worse batting average than the standard? We do not [have any numbers on that]."
Indeed, there are no tracking services recording failed products, but research firm Mintel has counted the number of nutritional claims on restaurant menus since June 2004. Its data show that fast-food restaurants have doubled their health-oriented nutritional claims since then, from 12.4% in the second quarter of 2004 to 23% in the third quarter of 2005. Yet, of the nearly 22% of fruit ingredients used in fast-food menus, much of it is for dessert items.
But not all better-for-you items have been a bust for the burger barons. Salads have been a bona fide hit and have brought more women into Wendy's and McDonald's.
Contributing: Stephanie Thompson
A sampling of headstones from the healthful-fast-food graveyard
* McDonald’s McLean Deluxe
Born: April 1991
Died: February 1996
* Burger King’s
Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette
Born: September 2003
Died: July 2004
* KFC Lite ‘N Crispy/Skin-free Crispy Chicken
Born: February 1991
Died: November 1991
* Pizza Hut Fit ‘n Delicious Pizza
Born: October 2003
Died: available regionally
Source: Ad Age research