Post of the Day
February 10, 1998
Boston Chicken Board
Subject: RE: Going nowhere, for now
My comments below are based on a related dealing with another fast food chain concerning the question of fast service vs. healthy alternatives. Earlier on 1/14/98, SmilingSynic wrote as follows:
"Regarding claims from research reports that BOST's target market may be more interested in KFC's truly fast-food approach than in BOST's lure of healthy fare: Is there evidence backing up this claim, or is this just mere conjecture based more on some so-called expert's own personal tastes than on a broad sampling repeat purchasers of meal-replacement restaurant food?"I used to be a frequent visitor to Long John Silvers, http://www.longjohnsilvers.com/, a fast food chain that sells fish. I say "used to be" because they have discontinued a set of menu items which I really liked. At one point in my life, I wanted to give up subsistence on fast food--in the days before Boston Market, the only chicken available was KFC, Popeye's, Bojangle's and Popeye's. All of these places served fried stuff. Then I heard that other ways of preparing food were more healthy, such as broiling and baking. I was advised to be on the lookout for places using these ways of cooking. Long John Silver's baked fish and baked chicken entrees figured prominently in my losing 50 pounds. This approach even allowed the occasional treat of 2 hushpuppies.
For a while the American public became more health conscious over a period of time (as noted by placement of "Nutrition Facts" on food and better definitions on "fat free" vs. "reduced fat" etc.). However, we are lately starting to see a disturbing trend where many Americans have developed this feeling that they don't want to bother reading labels nor considering their food intake. A big part of this is that many people simply do not want to sit down as a group of friends or family to enjoy a meal. It is as if doing so will rob them of their time.
As someone who is very health conscious and watches those kinds of markets (no pun intended), I found it strange that Long John Silvers would delete the baked fish and baked chicken entrees. I had noticed how they tried with different schemes and recipes, to the one point of naming it "Flavorbaked" fish. However, it did not catch on.
I sent an e-mail describing how disappointed I was to see the baked menu disappear. I praised LJS for helping me out when I wanted to lose weight and how dismayed I was that they could be helping others as well. I thought that this segment of the population was still worth considering, esp. noticing how other health related activities seems to go up (such as gym enrollments.)
I received several replies from the LJS headquarters explaining that they are still trying in other parts of the country (I live in San Jose, CA) to see if some other type of baked food for the health conscious does in fact sell. I found it ironic that California with its image of so many of its residents being into new age herbs, enormous health-conscious supermarkets like Whole Foods and surfboard-type fitness was not a test market.
However, as the LJS representative explained to me, the predominant lifestyle of today is driven by the speed of availability. When they did their marketing research, they noticed how many more customers wanted something quickly, like the fried fish. The baked fish took on average a 3 to 5 minute wait; that is an eternity in the world of fast food. In general, we live in an out-of-breath society which wants everything days before yesterday. My joke about this is that we overlook the health benefits of wine and instead are on a mad crusade not led by Paul Masson, everytime we say, "We must have our first heart attacks before it's/its time." I've already gone to the bedside of one high-tech Silicon Valley 27 year old programmer who was in the hospital for suffering a heart attack, very addicted to this fast pace life style and never properly eating nor resting.
If you look at other successful ventures in the fast food world, you'll see many of them are indeed driven by speed, not quality. But it's not just limited to food--you can see how many stores like WalMart are all laid out the same way in the name of convenience, as opposed to the hardware store where you used to be able to develop a relationship with the owner.
One of the earliest examples was Tom Monaghan's idea. Tom was a 23 year old who had no college experience and never studied any marketing. He merely thought that if he could deliver a pizza in 30 minutes or less, people would buy. The concept caught on big, maybe you too have eaten Tom's idea. Tom was the founder of Domino's Pizza. When Tom has been interviewed as to what led to his success, he said he noticed this, "People were much more interested in just having something to eat than the actual quality of the pizza."
It's also pretty interesting to note that David Gardner (MotleyFool) has said that one of the key shifts in attitude needed to become a successful investor is to think in long terms. He and his brother guide us to give up the notion of getting rich quick. America, unfortunately, every day with its obsessions on being first to market becomes more and more short-term oriented. This the same drive that leads many of them to load up on the quick fries instead of a well made baked potatoes, or as noted earlier, the fast Original Recipe vs the slow roasted chicken. Nowhere is the impulse to grab something quick to eat than to sit down to a meal more evident than in the workplace itself--notice how many people work 70+ hours a week nowadays, staying at their desk most of the time. Look at the kind of food many of these people rush eating back at their desks--they picked it up on their mad dash at the quickest drive-thru they could find.
If you notice how programmed we are lately to demand more and more speed, be it the downloading of Web pages, the impatience we have if the driver in front of us slows down on a yellow, you won't find it so far fetched that very few want to sit down to enjoy a meal as per the Boston Market model. Instead, they just want to get something fast, as per Long John Silver's fried not baked, Domino's Pizza, and the originally mentioned, KFC.
More than one coworker has said to me at lunchtime, "Boston Market? They take too long. We don't have time." So given this and the various other observations noted above in and out of food (if you're Californian, you'll note the pun there with a chain whose name represents quickness--> In-N-Out Burger!), it is not surprising that many in the American public would flock to KFC for speed than Boston Market for health. You can look at other aspects of American life where people who generate the right answers quickly are called "smart", such as valuing much more the CEO who turns the company around in a quarter instead of the one who kept his company growing over 5 years. This addiction to speed carries on into many other aspects of life in very subtle ways. Just like the lack of security prevents you from taking a stroll through any neighborhood, so does the emphasis on fastness prevent many people from choosing a meal that seems to be prepared slower than that of the competition. We want faster everything--faster cars, faster lovers, and faster food, so the choice of KFC over Boston Market need no longer be surprising. But what may be intriguing is to sit back and note how few people are actually aware that they are doing this, esp. noticeable when they go about choosing food.