Many operators have moved past trying to force low-fat and low-calorie claims for fries and are instead focusing on “real” and “authentic” buzzwords—the latter of which is perceived as healthier by 36% of consumers, according to Technomic’s Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. And that perception can be as important as reality for sales.
Skin-on, natural-cut fries are the star sides at chains such as Wendy’s and Smashburger. “There’s nothing that makes skin-on fries healthier than skin-off fries, but in people’s minds, they look at it as more minimally processed and more natural, [contributing to] a halo of wholesomeness,” says Smashburger CEO and founder Tom Ryan.
Portion control also influences health perceptions. Smashburger offers “modern portions” of 4 ounces for a regular size, which is about a half to a third of the size served by many of its competitors. Five Guys’ regular fries, for example, weigh in at over 14 ounces, notes Ryan.
Smashburger is also looking beyond potatoes to enhance health cues. Its Veggie Frites are no-batter, flash-fried carrots and green beans. Ryan says they don’t sell as well as the chain’s traditional fries, but they’re popular with consumers looking for a healthier side that “acts like fries.”