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Fast Food Industry

Fast Food Industry

The fast food industry, a rapidly growing segment of the food industry, is in news for all the wrong reasons of late.
Abhijit Naik
Eating habits then and now
The first name to come to your mind when you hear the term fast food, is likely to be McDonald's. With around 31,000 outlets spread across 126 countries, it is undoubtedly one of the bigwigs of the fast food industry. Having said that, McDonald's and other similar franchisees featuring in the top ten fast food restaurants list, just constitute a small portion of this billion dollar industry, which is much bigger than we imagine.

An Overview

As its name suggests, fast food is any food that can be prepared and served within a short span of time. That being said, the concept encompasses all those restaurants and stores which sell or serve preheated or precooked food items to its customers. In times wherein people don't have time for proper breakfast―the most important meal of the day―fast food outlets surely come as a blessing in disguise. Besides this, its popularity can also be attributed to the fact that capital investment necessary to build a fast food outlet (a non-franchisee outlet) is relatively low.

Growth in America

The history of this industry can be traced back to Ancient Rome, wherein bread and wine were sold in street-side stalls. In the United States though, its history is closely associated with the introduction of drive-in restaurants sometime in early 20th century. Since then, the US fast food industry has come a long way to become the largest in the world. One of the major names when it comes to the American fast food sector, the White Castle, which was founded in Kansas, in 1921, was one of the pioneers of this field. In 1930s, the American industry reached yet another milestone, when Howard Johnson introduced the concept of franchising restaurants in the United States.


At the global level, fast food industry has witnessed a tremendous growth over the last few decades. In 1970, the Americans spent a total of $6 billion on fast food. In 2000, the spending increased to $110 billion. If the estimated figures for the last 10 years are added, things becomes even more interesting. According to the statistics, the industry experienced an overall growth of 4.8 percent in 2006 alone. In the same year, the Indian fast food industry recorded an amazing growth of 41 percent, with some of the major International players entering the Indian market.

Other than McDonald's, the major players in the industry as of today are Burger King, Yum! Brand, Wendy's, KFC, Subway, etc. Each of these fast food chains have numerous stores in different parts of the world. Interestingly, a large number of these outlets trace their roots to the United States. In fact, the fast food industry employs 2 million workers in the United States alone, and thus, is considered an important pillar of the US economy.

Over the last couple of years though, the industry has had to bear the brunt of rising prices of food and energy. The fact that this industry has always provided services at reasonable prices, is one of the driving factors when it comes to its popularity. Price rise though, has forced these outlets to hike the price of their products. At the same time, this industry has also come under the scanner for some harmful effects of fast food. Add to it the fact that the number of dining restaurants has also been growing over the last decade or so, and you realize that its woes have just increased.