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Emerging Fast Food Franchises:

Healthy Fast Food That Tastes Good

by Patricia Schaefer

A number of months ago, Franchise Trade quoted author Jaynie Smith in our article Healthy Fast Food: Oxymoron or Competitive Advantage?: "If someone would create a chain with healthy food, and I don't just mean healthy food that tastes bad (like junky iceberg lettuce) -- but healthy food that tastes wonderful -- they would have complete competitive advantage in a new niche. And there is a niche completely unserved out there in the fast food market."

Well, Smith and countless others may be overjoyed to learn that healthy fast food is on its way. A number of fast food franchises have recently emerged that may soon change the face of fast food forevermore. What these franchises have in common are: founders who were fed up with unhealthy fast food choices and decided to do something about it; menus that include both healthier offerings and customer participation in menu item food components; and food that is fast, nutritious and tastes great.

The franchises, their offerings and feedback

O'Naturals

When I read that O'Naturals 's founder and chairman is Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of yogurt company Stonyfield Farm, I knew this franchise was in good hands. If you've ever tasted or read about Stonyfield yogurt, you know it's one of the best-tasting, freshest, most wholesome, and most popular yogurts out there today. In keeping with the same dedication to using only natural and organic ingredients, O"Naturals' menu item ingredients are free of additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors.

All O'Naturals provide nutritional information in-store and highlight selections for people on restricted diets (gluten free, low carb, dairy free, vegetarian, heart healthy, etc). They also list all of the ingredients for each menu item on cards at the line, so people with concerns can see exactly what is in their food.

Menu items include: build your own salad, featured tossed salads, build you own sandwich, featured flatbread sandwiches, a selection of Asian noodles, soups, flatbread pizzas, natural fountain soda, and Stonyfield Farm organic smoothies.

Customer favorites: Jay Friedlander, Chief Operating O'Naturalist, says, "While it varies by the season and what monthly specials are running, our most popular flatbread sandwich is our Chicken TMB -- natural chicken breast meat tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Our Balsamic Blue salad is also a favorite -- organic mixed greens, walnuts, raisins, flatbread croutons and crumbled blue cheese with a balsamic dressing. Butternut and Apple soup is also one of our most popular items."

Common customer comments: "People like the variety and flavors. They are thrilled to be able to get the quality and taste made from natural and organic ingredients. One mother said she 'almost cried' when she found out that we had 2% organic milk for the kids."

O'Naturals is in the final stage of negotiating two franchise contracts outside of New England, where they currently have four company owned stores. "We are ready to grow as quickly as we find the best people to partner with," says Friedlander, "and we are not setting artificial targets."

Salad Creations

Jeff Levine, founder and CEO of Salad Creations, says, "The concept was created several yeas ago when I realized that more and more people are looking for fast, healthy food alternatives that taste great. Developing a concept that delivered great tasting food was paramount. There were and still are many restaurants that offer healthy food, but were lacking in taste. Capitalizing on this trend has proven to help drive our success."

So -- Imagine walking into a fast food establishment where you can "Create Your Own Salad" from more than 40 ingredients including farm-fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, just-sliced meats, and over 15 homemade salad dressings. Specially-trained Salad Chefs prepare each customer's order and, if asked, can help match particular tastes to customize each individual's salad experience. All salads can be either tossed or chopped.

In addition to the "Create Your Own Salad" option, Salad Creations offerings include: featured salads, soups, wraps, and smoothies.

Customer favorites: "Our more popular item is the 'Create Your Own Salad.' It represents 80 percent of our sales. In addition, the Chinese Chopstick Salad and Buffalo Chicken Salad Wrap do pretty well too. As for ingredients, romaine is by far the most popular lettuce and many guests put tomatoes, craisins, artichoke hearts, mandarin oranges, chicken and Wild Alaskan Salmon on their salads as well."

Common customer comments: "I can't believe how incredible this is!" "You need to open one of these near me." "I can't believe the amount of selection we have for the price."

Salad Creations presently has nine locations in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Rhode Island and Mexico; one company-owned store and eight franchised stores. Levine plans to "open more than 25 additional restaurants through the beginning of 2007, making it one of the largest salad restaurants in the county."

Blendz

Matt Phipps, founder, president and CEO of Blendz Franchise System, Inc., says he acknowledged the existence of two extremes of food when creating Blendz: "Those of the traditional fast food industry like burgers, fries and greasy foods -- and on the other extreme -- more medicinal health food that was supposedly good for you but tasted bad. There was this huge middle ground of people who would eat healthier if they could get it with the same speed and convenience of that traditional fast food. We don't claim for our food to be 'healthy;' we more explain it as 'healthier' with options to make it as healthy as you want. That unique niche of allowing customization of our salads or smoothies hit a homerun with our customers."

Blendz menu offerings include: Create your own salad (choice of greens, 15 different toppings each day, and dressings), featured salads, grilled Panini, gourmet soups, smoothies, essentialz shots (health-boosting nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants), and fresh squeezed juices.

Customer favorites: "Our Chicken Panino has grilled chicken breast, roasted red peppers and provolone cheese with a basil pesto on our signature focaccia bread, and is one of our most popular items. The 4-topping salads (where you can choose your greens, four toppings and a dressing) is by far our #1 selling salad. Once customers try it, they love the ability to keep changing it up each time they come in to find their 'perfect salad.' Our #1 selling combo is a panino and smoothie."

Common customer comments: "You have the best salads." "Wonderful customer service. Thank you!"

There are presently five Blendz stores; four company-owned and one franchised location. Two new franchises and one corporate store are also in development. Phipps say Blendz' main priority is to grow through the Western region of the U.S. through franchising: "Over the next five years, we plan to open 200 locations throughout those four states. We feel the timing is right for our type of model and are aggressively looking for potential franchise partners to help us reach that goal, and bring a healthier fast food to as many people as possible."

Franchising opportunities

O'Naturals

What Friedlander says O'Naturals has to offer prospective franchisees:

"Having served well over a million meals, we have our systems in place. In addition, we have a comprehensive training program and are the only people in the country that have figured out how to deliver an entire concept that is serving only natural and organic food. Finally, we understand what it is like to operate multiple locations and a variety of formats.

"While we have plenty of things to say about what we have created, the industry and mainstream press have also recognized our achievements. Our concept has been given the 'Hot Concept' award and named as one of the Top 50 Fast Casual Players by Nation's Restaurant News. The mainstream press from the NY Times and Chicago Tribune to Gourmet and Vogue have all reports on how O'Naturals is creating something genuinely unique in the quick service arena."

What O'Naturals is looking for in franchisees:

"We are looking for people with the restaurant experience, financial means and commitment to both the O'Naturals brand and to running a socially responsible business."

Salad Creations

What Levine says Salad Creations has to offer prospective franchisees:

"Salad Creations is a great selection for a potential franchisee due to our low start-up costs; significant support from Corporate with operations, training and marketing; a compact footprint (1200-1500 square feet) and no cooking. In addition, our Area Developer network provides opportunities for rapid growth and regional support for new franchisees as needed."

What Salad Creations is looking for in franchisees:

"Typically, we are looking for someone who is interested in going into business for themselves, but not for themselves. They should be motivated, hardworking, a team player and buy into the system and concept."

Blendz

What Phipps says Blendz has to offer prospective franchisees:

"Two things. [The first is that] our menu mix is what Americans are wanting. The demand for healthier food options is all over the news, in schools and in mature chains. Since our brand started with this as our basis, we don't have to reinvent our brand; we just need to expose it to our customers. The second thing that we have to offer as a newer franchisor is the burning passion and desire to succeed as a team with our franchise partners. We are not a complacent big company who just hand out rules and collect royalties: In the words of Avis Rent-A-Car, "We try harder!"

What Blendz is looking for in franchisees:

"Our business is all about people. Since we do not have a kitchen in our stores, franchise partners do not have to have prior restaurant experience (although that can always be helpful), nor do they have to be chefs. The primary skill is how they work with people, their staff and their customers. We are looking for people who are outgoing, energetic, fun, love life and want to make a difference in the lives of the people they come in contact with. You can't teach a smile or passion, but we can teach you how to run our model if you have those traits."

A few days ago I just happened to frequent my local Burger King for the first time in about a year. As my vehicle moved along the drive-through path, I couldn't help but notice the posters hung in overwhelming abundance along the route depicting and promoting double and triple whoppers. At 1130 calories and 74 grams of fat, the triple whopper is hardly fast food at its nutritional finest. At that moment, I thought of Blendz' refreshing fresh-squeezed orange juice, Salad Creations' Create Your Own Salad, and O'Naturals' Butternut and Apple Soup.

Now that's fast food I'd like to see in "Everytown, USA."

Copyright 2006, Attard Communications, Inc.

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