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Fast Food Cost: Why Healthy Diets and Sustainable Change is Inevitable

February 26, 20246 min
Yaseen Burt photo
Yaseen Burt
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Competing with fast food is tough. Beyond the sizzling burgers and fries is an inconvenient truth: fast food culture has long harmed public health and worsened our carbon footprint.

Fast food cost is a global issue, and without change, its impact will continue to exponentially grow.

This article will explore why fast food costs are a pressing issue and how healthy diets and sustainable change offer the inevitable solution.

The Rise of Fast Food Culture

The rapid rise of fast food culture can be attributed to its convenience, affordability, and aggressive marketing strategies which appeal to busy lifestyles.

However, this convenience comes at a substantial cost to both individual health and the environment.

Largely consisting of processed foods high in calories, unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium, fast food contributes to the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

The environmental impact is also significant, with fast food generating vast amounts of waste and carbon emissions.

To combat these issues, food intelligence methods have been developed to perform data analysis and identify trends in consumer behavior which can be an alternative for fast-food companies.

The True Cost of Fast Food

The cost of fast food is not just limited to health and environmental impacts, but it also has economic consequences.

The healthcare costs associated with obesity alone are estimated to be over $147 billion per year in the United States.

Additionally, the resources used in producing and transporting fast food contribute to rising food prices and have a significant impact on food security, especially in developing countries.

Moreover, the fast food industry has been accused of exploiting workers and contributing to income inequality.

Many employees in these restaurants are paid low wages, have limited job security and lack access to benefits like healthcare and paid sick leave.

The Need for Change

The negative impacts of fast food culture cannot be ignored any longer. Reversing the damage will require a collective effort from governments, corporations, and individuals.

Governments need to introduce policies and regulations that promote healthier food options while also incentivizing sustainable practices in the production and distribution of food.

They should also invest in education programs to raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating habits.

Corporations have a responsibility to prioritize the well-being of their consumers and the environment over profits.

This can be achieved by offering more nutritious options, using sustainable sourcing methods and reducing packaging waste.

Individuals also play a crucial role in creating change. By making conscious choices and supporting local and sustainable food systems, we can reduce our reliance on fast food and improve our health as well as the health of our planet.

A Generational Shift Towards Healthy Diets

For many, a focus on wellness is reactionary to declining health and or the onset of aging. However, younger generations are tapping into alternative lifestyles earlier than their predecessors, and that typically includes what and how they eat. 

Millennial parents have been a major driver behind the $650 billion health and wellness movement. Generally more committed to healthier lifestyles, they’re also instilling these values in the descendent Gen Z (born 1996 – 2012) and Alpha (born 2012 – 2022) generations.

For example, Gen Z places a much larger focus on healthy snacking as a way to replace traditional sit-down meals.

Millennials and Gen Z similarly prioritize sustainable ingredients, farming, processing, and packaging – and are willing to pay a premium for healthier food options. 

Further, Generation Alpha is far more involved in meal decisions, reflecting an early awareness of the link between diet and wellness.

But with traditional sugary sweetness guised as healthy options, brands with a vision for a healthier populace face stiff competition in winning over the masses.

F&B Brands Are Rising to the Occasion 

Two examples of F&B companies that made health-focused innovation a successful endeavor are a plant-based milk alternative and a large national brand.

The prior, Oatly, capitalized on consumer concerns around dairy, lactose intolerance, and the wider environmental impact of cattle farming.

They did so by using effective storytelling to take consumers on a journey from the fields where their oats are grown to the entire production process.

The Swedish brand took consumers behind the scenes, fostering a sense of trust and authenticity, instantly resonating with a market that’s ready to spend on alternatives to dairy products.

Their success shows the potential success of brands that tap into the intersection of health and sustainability trends.

The latter, Chipotle, a large Mexican fast food chain, successfully ventured into the wellness movement with a range of health-based and dietary offerings enforced by marketing that emphasizes the use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Diet-conscious menu options like plant-based chorizo and organic tofu sofritas have been paying off for the brand.

Chipotle’s fifty-three-ingredient menu also promises consumers a fresh, locally produced end-product, with a per-meal nutrition calculator for the super-calorie-conscious consumer.

Unlocking a Consumer-driven Wellness Revolution

The challenge, especially for industry giants, is in tapping into the fast-evolving and hyper-nuanced consumer behind this change.

F&B companies’ strategy needs innovative ways to predict what tomorrow’s consumers want to create products that align with an increasingly healthy and more environmentally conscious market. This is where AI’s transformative power comes in.

Far beyond optimizing supply chains and reducing waste, sophisticated AI models are already helping F&B companies delve into an ocean of online conversations surrounding food, by foodies, in homes, restaurants, and milestone events.

This data reveals insights into the hopes, fears, and evolving priorities of a future consumer base that also happens to be more expressive of their needs via myriad digital channels.

The Future Menu That is Inclusive 

All indications are that healthier and more environmentally conscious food choices will become increasingly desirable.

F&B companies that are seizing opportunities to “make better food” more accessible are poised to build more profitable and sustainable business models themselves.

A willingness to embrace new approaches will be vital in keeping up with, arguably, the most diverse and demanding consumer to date. But the transformation is already underway, and it promises a healthier and more harmonious relationship between people, their wellness, and food.

What can food intelligence do for you?