Before you feed another calf, plant another row of corn or wonder about the wisdom of winter wheat, maybe you should think about what your fellow citizens are really eating. Forget all that nonsense about natural, organic, GMO's and the rest of the trendy meal time issues that the general press loves to follow.
They get those things right almost as often as they get modern American politics right.
The NPD Group has just reported that we spent $254,541,589,000 on fast food in 2012. It's a segment that really hates that term, preferring to be called 'quick service restaurants (QSR's).' Mostly it's food consumed on the run, in the car, at your desk; the last-ditch dinner when you're too tired to cook or just don't wanna. It was once a lunch-almost-only option that did a little business later in the day and expanded into breakfast when it thought the noon time business was saturated. It's hand-held food often served in containers designed to fit into your car's cup holder. In fact, it's the major reason your cup holder exists.
So McDonald's is solely responsible for one of the most important automotive designs of the past half century? Maybe the 7-11 Slurpee had something to do with it, too. Just over a decade ago, drinking (a Slurpee) while driving was thought to be as dangerous as today's texting while driving.
NPD confirmed that McDonald's is still the top 'quick service' food chain in America, making the standard hamburger our staple food. But before you beef boys get all giggly about dominating the menu, let's look at it from a packaging point-of-view. Labeling laws demand that ingredients be listed in order of content – the ingredient that makes up the most of a food product has to be listed first with all other ingredients in descending order. Maybe the bun is first followed by "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on that sesame seed bun?"
McDonald's sold us more than $35 billion worth of burgers and fries in 2012, close to tripling the runner up in this culinary beauty contest; Subway, at $12 billion. The real shocker on the NPD list, though, was #3 – Starbucks. In an era when cash-strapped people were abandoning mid-range restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, Friday's and Outback for cheaper foods, a $5.00 latte made economic sense to millions of consumers. Stack that staggering fact next to Micky D's dollar for any size cup of coffee (small, medium or large) and their ever so slightly more expensive lattes and you have an interesting point to ponder.
Wendy's and Burger King stand next in line and the purely chicken shacks; Chic-fil-A, and KFC, bring up the rear. Of course, Mickey, the King and that red-haired vixen, Wendy, sell their own versions of the Colonel's best, too, raising the specter that the chicken sandwich is actually on a par with the Big Mac and its cousins. Poultry has just surpassed beef in total consumption so there is no reason to suspect it isn't kicking beef's butt at QSR's as well as in the supermarket meat case.
Here's the list of top QSR's in 2012. Parsing the ingredient list says wheat is where it's at – buns, taco shells, donuts, pizza rounds – followed by beef and chicken in a probable statistical tie, coffee beans, produce, cheese, pizza sauce and various condiments including McD's special sauce. And if you're thinking about selling the farm and getting into this business, take a look at Chic-fil-A's average sales per unit. From a business point-of-view, S. Truett Cathy is the real genius at feeding Americans on the run.