It’s only natural that the boom of new healthy and sustainable fast-food chains would provoke an eye roll. But the new crop of healthy fast-food start-ups — Sweetgreen, LYFE Kitchen, Tender Greens and Native Foods —are not companies trying to dress themselves according to the latest fad. As I argue in my piece for the New York Times Room for Debate, they are chasing a multibillion dollar market of well-off moms and Millennials who are demanding healthy and sustainable food that’s also convenient. Things like kale-banana smoothies, grass-fed burgers and salads of local zucchini, squash, corn and chicken. These emerging brands will only succeed if they differentiate themselves. The incentives are there to do the right thing.
That’s the good news. The better news is that if these chains succeed, food that is better for us and the planet won’t only be available to those with a taste for quinoa or the means to spend $12 on a salad. The upstarts’ higher standards are already pushing mainstream chains to change their businesses, even though that change is costly and runs counter to their business model of offering food fast and cheap. Earlier this year, Chik Fil-A vowed to phase out meat raised with antibiotics by 2016. McDonald’s has been forced to revisit where it gets its beef. It has pledged to buy only “verified sustainable beef” within two years (even if what qualifies as “sustainable” is still undefined).
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