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Fast Food Restaurants Finally Have Something to Brag About (Sort Of)


Plus, Taco Bell and Burger King introduce new products, and the fast food workers' strike expands.

Welcome to our round-up of the top fast food news stories of the day.

The Better of Two Evils

Fast food may take all the flak for its not-so-nutritious offerings, however, a survey of 19 sit-down chains done by University of Toronto researchers found that the average meal contained 1,128 calories, compared to the fast food average of 881, according to ABC News.

Popular lunch and dinner meals at small chains across the country were also found to contain a whopping 1,327 calories on average by researchers at Tufts University in Boston.

"Considering that more than half the restaurants in the US are independent or small chain and won't be covered by labeling requirements in the future, this is something consumers need to pay attention to," said Lorien Urban of the Tufts study. "It's also important because nearly 40% of meals are now eaten outside the home."

With obesity continuing to become synonymous with America, the fast food industry, with its massive reach and worldwide reputation, has faced the brunt of the backlash.

The days of sit-down meals with the entire family are slowly fading away as people head out to restaurants more often, but nutritional research has made it clear that this is not a healthy step.

As healthier offerings continue to pop up on menus and research continues to be compiled, fast food may have an opportunity to finally shirk its reputation -- perhaps the industry can position itself as a surprisingly healthier alternative when eating out?

Milwaukee to Continue Fast Food Strikes: Will Minimum Wage Become a Thing of the Past?

Following in the footsteps of workers in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, Milwaukee fast food and retail workers have started walking off the job today.

Fast food industry giants like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Yum (NYSE:YUM), and retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), have historically offered minimum or just above minimum wage to employees, well below what's considered a living wage.

The Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee (MWOC) intends to have hundreds of workers abandon their posts in the fight for wages of $15 per hour, a far cry from the state minimum of $7.25 currently offered.

"If we truly want to stimulate the economy, then we must stimulate the wages of those who collectively have the buying power to strengthen the economy. It's simple. I support the workers today because raising their wage, raises our economy," said Pastor Charles Williams II of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, a leader of the Detroit walk outs, in an e-mail to the Huffington Post.

With the employment rate in the fast food and retail industry still far above that of overall employment, and demand for jobs high, the MWOC and its counterparts will likely need a massive mobilization effort in order to prompt a reaction.

While $15 is almost definitely out of the question, with over four million employees in the fast food industry alone, any bending on the part of employers could drastically impact profits.

Taco Bell Introduces the Waffle Taco

Taco Bell, Yum's Mexican eatery and advocator of the late-night Fourth Meal, began testing a new item for its First Meal breakfast lineup that launched earlier this year in about 800 locations across ten states, according to CNBC.

The waffle taco, composed of a scrambled egg, a sausage patty, and maple syrup nestled within a fried waffle, is currently available in select Southern California locations and sells for $0.89.

Should the initial tests go well, the waffle taco will become available at all Taco Bell locations that offer breakfast, said Rob Poetsch, a Taco Bell spokesman.

This waffle variation on a Mexican staple joins the ranks of Taco Bell's vastly successful Doritos Locos tacos, over 450 million of which have been sold since their launch in 2012.

Despite the waffle taco lacking the brand association of the Doritos Locos innovation, Yum could have its ticket into the incredibly valuable fast-food breakfast competition if it takes off with consumers.

Burger King Takes Aim at the McRib

Burger King (NYSE:BKW) may have its sights set on infiltrating the cult that is the McRib fan base as it's set to release the BK Rib sandwich nation wide on May 21.

The BK Rib will join the likes of the Carolina-style BBQ sandwiches, the Memphis pulled pork sandwich, and sweet potato fries that it introduced recently to meet consumers' varied interests.

"Our guests have grown to look for a variety of options. It's not just about beef anymore, but other proteins like chicken and turkey and pork," said Eric Hirschhorn, vice president of global innovation at Burger King, to USA Today.

The $3.49 boneless BK Rib follows the 2010 failure by the company to introduce bone-in fire-grilled ribs that sold for nearly $9 in some locations.

This new price point and the more convenient style of the BK Rib make it a far more direct competitor of the McRib, but the legend of the limited-time-offer McDonald's sandwich could present an insurmountable barrier of entry into the rib sandwich game.

Whether it can snag a share of the McRib market or not, Burger King will have at least made a significant addition to its menu in a fast food and health-centric era that demands constant innovation in order to remain relevant.
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