Yesterday Slate ran a thought-provoking piece by S.T. VanAirsdale titled “The Fresh Wars: How the five-letter word became a fast-food mantra.” As VanAirdale describes,
The Fresh Wars have advertisers, marketers, and chefs embroiled in a battle for the title of freshest American fast food—and for the business of an increasingly sophisticated and conscientious populace of eaters. Taco Bell vs. Chipotle is just the start. The tagline “Eat Fresh” has helped Subway eclipse McDonald’s as the world’s largest fast-food chain. But Arby’s crusade to “Slice Up the Truth About Freshness” aims to sow doubts about Subway’s food sourcing while wooing customers with meat sliced on-premises. Meanwhile, Domino’s Pizza has spent more than three years and untold millions reinventing its pizza and its image as models of quality and transparency, a gambit that has at least two high-profile competitors following suit.
The skirmishes emphasize the extraordinary value of one abstract concept for an industry desperate to capitalize on health and sourcing trends without actually having to invest in high-quality ingredients. Fresh doesn’t have to be low-calorie or even especially nutritious…. Nor does fresh require pathologically locavorian supply-chain standards: As Arby’s has revealed, a sandwich from Subway might contain cold-cuts processed, packaged, and shipped from a centralized facility in Iowa. Better yet for retailers like Taco Bell, Domino’s, and Arby’s, the mere implications of freshness can be sold at a premium to new customers who otherwise might have avoided those chains’ wares altogether. The only unabashedly pure thing about the concept of fresh is its subjectivity.
Whether or not you’re a regular fast-food patron, the article is definitely worth checking out. Find the full piece here.