clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Can Big Chains Pull Off Serving ‘Local’ Food?

As modern diners demand more locally sourced food, can major brands keep up?

KFC

When it comes to tapping into regional food sources to produce appealing seasonal dishes for guests, small-scale restaurants have a huge advantage. Many work directly with farms, fishermen, and butchers to bring in high-quality ingredients, much to the delight of hungry patrons.

But now, some larger fast food chains are trying to get in on the local action, according to MarketWatch. Mammoths such as McDonald’s, which have not just national but international outposts to consider, have rolled out seasonal specials that reflect traditional menu items or ingredients from specific regions. Here's a look into how national and regional chains are incorporating local or locally-inspired foods to target a customer base that actively seeks not just sustainability, but also authenticity and regionalism.

McDonald's

In New England and Albany, N.Y., McDonald’s now serves lobster rolls at 600 restaurants, bringing a staple of outdoor summer dining into the fast food world. The chain’s lobster rollout was designed to showcase quality ingredients in the form of a regional favorite, according to a release on the company’s website. Much emphasis was given to the preparation of the 100 percent North Atlantic lobster meat, and the new $8.99 menu item was likened to "the same quality lobster served at white tablecloth restaurants on the East Coast."

McDonald’s has also cracked into local sourcing in California. The chain started serving Gilroy garlic fries at select locations in May with plans to include more in August, and it has incorporated breakfast bowls into menus in Southern California. Mickey D's also plans to introduce Sriracha sauce for the Big Mac, which will debut in Los Angeles and San Diego with baby kale and baby spinach instead of the traditional iceberg lettuce.

The lobster rolls were introduced June 20, so it’s too early to tell whether customers will buy into this newfound local focus. But if they do, can McDonald’s contend with all the other New England restaurants serving quality lobster rolls with 100 percent North Atlantic meat?

KFC

The chicken chain has made attempts to target regional specialties, releasing a Nashville-style hot chicken option — though not actually in Nashville. KFC's hot chicken first popped up in Pittsburgh as one of the milder marketing stunts the chain has pulled (including pizza with a fried chicken crust).

Shake Shack

The popular burger spot also tried its hands and serving regional lobster last year, debuting the Surf N' Shack burger topped with lobster meat from sustainable purveyor Homarus. Additionally, Shake Shack often aims to source ingredients for its concretes and milkshakes directly from local markets, as it did with its Japan location.

Burgerville

This Oregon-based chain, with additional locations in Washington, has made a point of making fast food healthy. It pulls in ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and lists partner farms, fisheries, and dairies on its website. Burgerville has a section of its menu that features the current seasonal items, which rotate to accommodate what ingredients available.

The prevalence of locally sourced and farm- or sea-to-table restaurants continues to explode. As such, it can be a challenge for producers to keep pace with the demand. Also, in rare cases, it can get places into trouble, as a handful of restaurants in Florida learned when they spouted about employing local food practices without actually upholding their word.

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day