What if the next time you found yourself buying a Big Mac the cashier asked you to put up a photo of it on Instagram and share the moment with your friends?
I’m guessing you’d be a little bit apprehensive about it, even though you’ve likely wandered into McDonalds of your own free will and are probably going to enjoy every single bite.
Your trepidation likely comes from knowing that your foray into the world of fast food is vastly at odds with the health food rhetoric that has become a staple of our social media news feeds, and indeed our wider culinary vernacular.
It sure is hip to be healthy – and let’s face it – your greasy, gluttonous and ethically dubious McValue meal has no place on social media, and is best consumed as a guilty-pleasure beneath the sanctuary of the golden arches.
You don’t need to look very far on Instagram to see the popularity of the healthy-living movement in full flight. At the time of writing this article, a search for the hashtag #fastfood returns about 1.3 million photos, which is certainly a lot, but it’s a figure that is monstrously dwarfed by its #healthyfood counterpart, which turns in over 17 million results.
Jason Thomas and Suzanne Higgs from the University of Birmingham have studied the significance of this online trend, and found consumer exposure to social based messages around healthy eating can increase consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduce the consumption of high-kilojoule snacks.
Further to that, this research by the University of Adelaide conducted as part of a food ethics project, found that people are becoming “increasingly overwhelmed by pressure to eat ethically and feel judged [for not doing so].”
It’s the omnipresence of these healthy living messages in our social spaces, and the associated guilt of failing to adhere to them, that has set the foundations for two rising Australian fast food businesses – SumoSalad and Oliver’s Real Food – to fully leverage the opportunity in the fast food marketing space.
By adopting a healthy approach to fast food and riding the waves of the online movement, these brands have been able to infiltrate the once impenetrable world of fast food marketing and are offering consumers a breadth of new alternatives in the choice of which fast food outlet to visit.
Both businesses use quality, free-range and locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. At SumoSalad this concept of provenance has even crept directly into their flagship stores in both Sydney and Melbourne, where hydroponic walls have been installed to grow fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs inside the store.
SumoSalad co-founder and managing director Luke Baylis says, “We see people coming in and picking lettuce off the wall and eating it. It’s quite interesting for us to see that interaction with the produce – eating it as they’re waiting to place their order.”
Similarly, Oliver’s Real Food is operating as “a sort of organic parasite” on McDonalds, with each of its stores located right next door (or very close to) the fast food behemoth at service stations around the country. For consumers, the old excuse of a lack of choice is being eliminated, as they’re confronted with the reality of having to choose between what the heart desires and what the brain – or perhaps their Instagram feed – is telling them to do.
Want more: Try this? Healthy returns: Content marketing opportunities for health and wellness brands
All this isn’t to say that the long lauded fast food marketing strategies of conglomerates like McDonalds, KFC, and Dominos are fighting a losing battle. Even in the current climate of increased scepticism surrounding their ethical footprint and nutritional value, they’ve been able to weather the storm and produce some memorable marketing messages.
But the kingpins of the fast good game have held a monopoly over the industry for decades, and their attempts to capitalise on the health food movement by introducing nutritional choices amidst their range of unhealthy ones, feels a whole lot less sincere than the efforts of their emerging competitors.
Nowadays it seems consumers are increasingly less likely to be sharing the love if your product doesn’t meet the triple bottom line – people, planet and profits.
Perhaps it’s time they took note.