Are ‘slow food’ formats creating new fast foods?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th June 2012

The growing trend in Australia for higher-priced, higher-quality, yet still casual and quick dining suggests that new offerings emerging for fast food are old-fashion slow food forms with a quick twist.

Portuguese chicken chain Nando’s, Mexican-food franchise Salsa’s Fresh Mex, new schnitzel producer Schnitz, and a host of boutique burger bars including Melbourne-born Grill’d and recently opened Huxtaburger and Jus Burgers, offer more epicurean alternatives to traditional fast food.

They fall into the category of boutique fast food chains, paying attention to detail when it comes to sourcing and preparing ingredients, more akin to the creation of traditional ethnic ‘slow food’ rather than a perception of mass-produced fast food.

The growing popularity of epicurean and ethnic fast food is allowing these types of businesses to expand. Grill’d is a good example: since opening in Hawthorn, Melbourne, in 2004, it has grown into a chain of about 50 restaurants around Australia. Schnitz, opened in 2009, is a similar example, with seven stores in Melbourne, two more in development, and 10 others awaiting sites, and with plans to open six restaurants in Sydney next year, before a planned expansion to Brisbane in 2014.

How does such rapid growth affect a business founded on boutique principles of quality and localness? The paradox of slow fast food might result in another paradox – the “large-small business”.  The balancing act is in ensuring that the consumer-driven growth of the small business into the large business is not at the expense of the quality, which initially attracted such popularity.

A similar phenomenon has appeared in Australia’s beer industry. The popularity of craft beer, such as Little Creatures, has allowed producers of boutique brands to move into the realm of mass production. As Australian Food News recently reported, Little Creatures producer Little World Beverages is the subject of a takeover by Japanese-owned brewing giant Lion.

Both Grill’d burgers and Little Creatures beers are examples of food service products that have earned huge consumer popularity in part due to their smaller, “local”, boutique image in their Australian origins. Other businesses are likely to follow this wave of success.