Hot dogs and buns – because it’s easy

Why does the fast food market mainly consist of hot dogs, hamburgers and buns? According to the industry itself, it is because they are easy to prepare and quick to serve. But there are indications that the trend is turning.

The National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) and Nofima Mat are the two Norwegian partners in the Nordic YoungHealth programme, the aim of which is to increase the range of healthy food being offered to young people. So the fast food market is a good place to investigate. The researchers have been looking at possible ways of getting more healthy meals onto the fast food market.

SIFO has visited school classes and has carried out quantitative surveys, interviews and observations. The aim was to find out whether young people have the opportunity to make a choice, and also whether it is possible to make healthier food choices on the road or on the move. They have been to petrol stations, cafes and kiosks along main roads.

The industry itself gives several reasons why there are so many unhealthy options. Hot dogs, hamburgers and buns can be kept warm for a long time without being ruined. At the same time, they demand little knowledge on the part of employees and they create little waste. They are also easy to eat on the move – they can be held in one hand, while the other holds the wheel. And fat and sugar products have a low price.

The alternatives – fruit and vegetables – are more difficult for staff to handle. It is important that fruit is fresh and looks attractive. Nobody buys bananas with brown spots. This means more waste and demands more knowledge about hygiene in connection with storage and preparation.

Inflexible menus

Several fast food chains have a policy of offering as many hamburger menus as possible. There are therefore a number of hamburger menus to choose from. The standard menu selections at petrol stations are often hamburger and soft drink, calzone or pizza slice and soft drink and white bread baguette and soft drink or water. There are also usually different hot dog menus at petrol stations and kiosks, with choices like seasoned hot dog, cheese hot dog and chilli hot dog. The menu system offers little flexibility; consumers do not get the opportunity to put together their own selections.

Flexibility is a way of offering more healthy options. We are seeing a trend towards more fast food places offering more choice instead of fixed menus.

Buns are big business

There are ready-baked buns in petrol stations because they smell good. They tempt customers who only popped in for coffee. The big chains give staff bonuses and have in-house competitions – the ones who sell most buns get a reward. SIFO’s report concludes that it must be possible to operate something similar to promote sales of fruit and vegetables or fish products.

Healthier times ahead?

The researchers are optimistic about prospects for young people in Norway, because there are indications that the trend is turning. Healthier products like wraps have gained a foothold. Fruit and vegetables are on the way in, even though stocking fresh foods is a challenge. The lunch box still has a solid following in the Norwegian market, and in this category we can see healthier alternatives. Sugar-free temptations like pastilles and chewing gum are also becoming more visible than they have been before.

Consumer and sensory sciences  

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