Bus Article 03 - Niall WalshWith upwards of 20 burrito bars now open in Dublin and with the Mexican inspired dish now spreading across the nation. The change in consumer preference towards quality unprocessed food has shaken up the fast food industry and the dominant players have started to take notice.

Fast, casual restaurants offer made-to-order meals that are perceived as healthier than traditional fast food in the €6-12 price range. The concept – which originated in the early 90’s – was propelled into the mainstream off the back of the economic downturn of 2007, as a more discerning customer base in the 18-35 demographic sought out healthier food options and limited discretionary spending meant that customers gravitated towards the cheaper, limited service format.

McDonald’s has, for a long time, occupied a seemingly unassailable position in the fast food market. Today, its growth figures and corporate strategy reflect a company on the defensive, struggling to maintain its position. In 2014, McDonald’s posted 3 consecutive quarters of comparative sales decline in its largest market, the US. Contrast this with Chipotle – one of America’s leading fast casual chains – who reported a 17 percent increase in comparative sales in the first 9 months of 2014.

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson said the company “must demonstrate to our customers and the entire McDonald’s system that we understand the problems we face and are taking decisive action to fundamentally change the way we approach our business.”

In America, such an approach has resulted in the invention of the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich in an attempt to fend off competition from Five Guys, Shake Shack and Chipotle. Similarly in Ireland, competition from the likes of Boojum and Tolteca has drawn a reaction from McDonald’s. 2015 saw the launch of the seemingly healthier McMór, in collaboration with well-known Irish brands including Charleville and Ballymaloe.

While Ireland’s up and coming burrito chains are enjoying a boom in popularity, they will need to prepare themselves for stiff competition within the fast casual industry. In January 2015, US chain Five Guys announced it is to open 10 restaurants in Ireland and will be setting its sights on the demographic that has made the burrito its staple food. Looking towards 2016, the casual dining industry is in for some fierce competition, where the only one certain to win is the consumer.

  • By Niall Walsh, Business Contributor