ATLANTA -- Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain known for its fried-chicken sandwiches, is adding cups of sliced apples, grapes, pineapple and oranges to its menu to give customers a healthier alternative.
Fruit cups are part of a new lineup of healthy offerings at the Atlanta-based chain that includes Dasani water and a low-calorie, low-fat chargrilled chicken sandwich, which has 270 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.
Chick-fil-A officials say the moves are designed to keep pace with an industry trend and don't represent a shift away from the flagship chicken sandwich - which is pressure cooked in peanut oil and has 410 calories and 16 grams of fat.
"We don't want to reinvent our brand and try to be something different," said Woody Faulk, the chain's vice president of brand development. "We're not going to try to become the health brand or ... the all-fried brand. We want to have everybody in the car be able to have something they can eat."
The fast-food industry, which has been targeted by lawsuits and criticism it is leading the nation down the road to obesity, has been moving for years toward healthier alternatives. Salads have become commonplace. And last month, McDonald's launched adult Happy Meals, complete with salad, bottled water, pedometer and health advice.
But providing fresh fruit has always been a problem as a fast food. The fruit has to be prepared properly and must be kept cold to prevent it from going bad. It's also more expensive.
Exchanging fries for fruit in a Chick-fil-A combo meal costs about 40 cents more. A regular-sized fruit cup sells for $1.85 and a large for $2.85.
"Why other fast food brands haven't been able to crack this code is it's hard," Faulk said. "You literally have to treat it with kid gloves once it goes off the truck."
The company solved the fruit cup puzzle by finding a supplier who prepares the fruit offsite. The precut, individually packaged fruit is brought by refrigerated trucks to Chick-fil-A's 1,142 restaurants.
Shortly before it's needed, employees mix the fruit together in a bowl and divide it into cups. Once mixed, the fruit needs to be sold that day.
The move by Chick-fil-A pleases health officials, who say increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is needed when 30 percent of U.S. adults are obese.
Eating fruits and vegetables have a major impact in preventing a variety of chronic diseases, from heart disease to diabetes and cancer, said Dr. Bill Dietz, director of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kathy Neely of Riverdale, Ga., was trying out the fruit cups Tuesday at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood.
"I know it's better for me than the fries," said the 42-year-old Neely. "When I start to eat healthy, I realize it tastes good, too."
Analyst Mark Sheridan at Johnson Rice and Co. in New Orleans said one thing is certain about Chick-fil-A's foray into fruit - if it succeeds, other chains will follow.
"Nothing's proprietary," Sheridan said. "Success guarantees competition. If there's something Chick-fil-A does very well, I promise you you'll see more people doing it."
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