In its first fry redesign in 41 years, Wendy's recently unveiled Natural-Cut Sea Salt Fries — revamped 100 percent russet potatoes, cut with the skin on and seasoned with sea salt. Back in 2008, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's both adopted natural-cut fries, but the addition of sea salt to Wendy's version it them away from the perception of overly processed fast food, giving it a halo of being closer to real food.
We've seen many new product introductions containing sea salt as of late, so is this suggestive of a short-term fad or a lasting trend? Some may see sea salt as trendy, but there is much more going on here. Sea salt is representative of the larger movement toward foods based on higher-quality ingredients, in turn creating food with integrity that also happens to be more flavorful. It's less about a fad and more about the movement toward real food in the same way that local and seasonal fare symbolize fresh and less processed. This real food halo gives consumers license to indulge with less guilt.
While some manufacturers and food service operators look to more functional properties to draw in the health-conscious consumer, employing call-outs like baked and low sodium, food culture has determined that French fries are a celebratory food, and consumers remark that low-fat French fries are "not worth wasting calories on." The more authentic and high quality the ingredients appear (i.e. sea salt and skin-on), the more at ease consumers feel about indulging.
Melissa Abbott, Hartman Group’s Director of Culinary Insights, dishes up the latest in food culture and its impact on the food industry. Hartman Group is a leading consumer culture consultancy and primary research firm utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to understand consumers, identify growth opportunities, re-energize brands, create relevant experiences and fuel strategic thinking.