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Tickers in this Article: MCD, WFMI, GOOG, YUM
Last month the Los Angeles City Council successfully passed a one-year moratorium on the development of new fast food restaurants in a low-income area of the city. This could be just the beginning of this type of legislation which could hurt the future growth prospects of fast food chains like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and possibly bolster growth opportunities for fresh food suppliers like Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq:WFMI).

Geography Case Study
Using Google Maps it's easy to identify several fast food chains including McDonald's and Taco Bell from Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM) in areas like Compton, California. A similar search for a Whole Foods shows that a health conscious consumer will have to travel several miles away from his or her home to benefit from the organic food supplier. Investors should pay attention to fast food chains that provide healthy alternatives since officials may begin to promote them as viable short-term options to address the lack of food choices. (To reduce the impact of food on your budget, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

McDonald's Healthy Alternatives
While cheeseburgers and fries are not likely to ever leave the McDonald's menu, healthier items are beginning to pop up in greater numbers. McDonald's customers can go to the company website to determine exactly how many calories are in the meals they are buying. For example, a cheeseburger, large fries and a medium Coke totals up to 1,010 calories while the Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken will net customers only 300 calories.

Economic Effects
As commodity prices for oil and grains headed upward over the past year, the healthy alternatives offered by Whole Foods with its higher retail prices lost momentum. At the same time comfort foods offered by the fast food chains remained resilient. McDonald's and Yum Brands' stock prices improved 26% and 9% respectively during the past one year while Whole Foods fell nearly 61%. It is true that global expansion of McDonald's and Yum Brands did contribute to their performance, but the implications of slowing growth here in the U.S. only puts more emphasis on the need for fast food chains to expand beyond the border. (Learn to identify the things that may impact your investments down the road in Taking Global Macro Trends To The Bank.)

Opportunity for Whole Foods
Since local government officials are calling for healthier alternatives Whole Foods should be one of the first providers to respond. Although it may have to change the pricing of its organic foods to better suit the needs of new customers, the potential for growth in new lower-income markets exists.

Final Thoughts
Fast food chains and other food retailers that can offer healthy alternatives will continue to gain attention as the battles against weigh gain and disease continue. The rewards for these healthy food providers will be an added bonus to their bottom lines and a credit to the communities they serve. Choice is still a determining factor, but options can help balance the results.

To put your money where you mouth is, read Sinking Your Teeth Into Restaurant Stocks.

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