Saturday, December 17, 2022

Fast Food Index Insightful Fresh Fun Food Insights


While 2022 is fast coming to a close, fresh food news never stops.  Once again, we are reminded that it just might be time for some of the recycled restaurant industry CEO’s to step aside and give a new generation a chance at evolving your concept rather than recycling old ideation in an incremental so as no one is interested, all that according to Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®. 

So, if you are paying nearly $5:59 for a McDonald's Big Mac in Tacoma, WA you could be paying $3:39 in Oklahoma. The question is do you want to live in Oklahoma? You may not but many others are more than willing to flee the high price of Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York City for a real house with land and rock solid, low cost, burger from McDonald’s. Do you work from home?  I do.

The Fast Food Index and website was developed by Riley Walz a college student. You read that right.  Not a recycled chain restaurant CEO but a college student that values a dollar.

What does it say about America that a college student is behind a website that has provided some fascinating insight into the wide range of prices at fast-food chains. A young industry outsider understood that key primary products from four national chains: McDonald’s Big Mac, Chick-fil-A’s Chicken Sandwich, Taco Bell’s hard-shell taco and Chipotle’s chicken burrito could tell everyone a lot about America.

So as Johnathan Maze wrote, “Walz is a 20-year-old business student who describes himself as a “self-taught engineer.” And he has developed a habit of pursuing what he calls “shenanigans.” For instance, in 2020, as a high-school student, he created a fake congressional candidate who would then be verified by Twitter, leading to changes in the social media site’s verification policies.

In this instance, Walz’s work delves into the surprising world of fast-food prices.

Major chains are built for consistency. So, a Big Mac is the same in Washington State as it is in Florida and as it is in Texas. But costs in those locations vary, particularly for labor. So McDonald’s franchisees, who have power to control their local prices, will set prices accordingly. That results in substantial differences from one region to the other.

The lowest price for that sandwich ranged from $3.39 to $7.89. On average, the price of a Big Mac is $5.05.

Walz did not know this (what college student would?) until he ordered a burrito at a friend’s apartment at Columbia University. It cost 15 cents more than the burrito he typically buys in New York’s Upper East Side.

“I wanted to see what these trends were like across the country,” Walz said in an interview conducted over email, rather than via what us old people call a “phone.” “I figured if I was interested in seeing the data, other people might be, too.”

Uh, yes. Restaurant chains have wanted for years to get at competitive pricing data by city and state.

In the old days, you’d have to call individual restaurants to get at this data, which made it cumbersome and quite expensive. But in more recent years, the advent of digital ordering made it possible to see prices all over the country. Last year, for instance, I was able to craft this story on Big Mac pricing by using McDonald’s app to search for prices in different locations across the country. But I am not a self-taught engineer and it took me forever.

Walz said he selected these four restaurants because they are well-known and everywhere. He tried to get Subway and Starbucks, but their respective apps made the process more difficult.

“The items I picked at the four chains are the most classic, most basic items (in my mind, at least) at each chain,” he said. “A Big Mac is the gold standard, the must-have item at every McDonald’s. The same is true for the simple, plain, crunchy taco at Taco Bell.”

He then reverse-engineered each chain’s mobile app to figure out how to get data for prices, then made thousands of requests through the app to place an order for each of the items at each of the chains’ various locations.

We were able to confirm some of the prices, but not all of them.

In looking at the data, it appears that franchises have greater variations than corporate chains. The price for the Crunchy Taco at Taco Bell was more than triple in the highest-priced city, in California, than in the lowest-priced cities (Mississippi and Texas).

The range for McDonald’s Big Mac is 133%. But for Chick-fil-A, the range is 70% at $3.69 to $6.29. For Chipotle it’s just 41%, $7.85 to $11.10.

Regardless, the site gives customers—not to mention the chains themselves—the opportunity to see just how much prices vary from one place to another.” Thanks to the Fast Food Maven and J Maze for sharing a view from a college student.

Is your brand ready for some outside eyes?  Are you still recycling last year’s ideations with whose of ten years ago?  Does your brand look more like 1999, 2009, or 2019?

Don’t over reach. Are you ready for some fresh ideations? Do your food marketing ideations look more like yesterday than tomorrow? Interested in learning how Foodservice Solutions® can edify your retail food brand while creating a platform for consumer convenient meal participationdifferentiation and individualization?  Email us at: or visit us on our social media sites by clicking the following links: Facebook,  LinkedIn, or Twitter

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