How Fast Food Reveals Secrets of the Economy

(Image credit: iStock)

From the Pizza Principle to the Waffle House Index, fast food can reveal surprising things about our behaviour and hidden changes in the market.

What is an economist’s favourite food? Burgers, chips and pizza might not immediately come to mind – but the consumption of meals like these can signal changes in people’s economic behaviour. Knowing the price of pizza in New York or the cost of a Big Mac in Beirut can tell market-watchers how the world’s cogs are turning.

The Pizza Principle

In 1980, a New Yorker called Eric Bram noticed that the price of a slice of pizza had matched the cost of a subway ride in the city for nearly 20 years. More recently, commentators have noticed that as the cost of pizza goes up, transit fares often follow. In 2014, data scientist Jared Lander investigated the principle and found that it remains in place. Why is this so? Nobody knows.

The Big Mac and KFC Indices

The price of a Big Mac says a lot about “purchasing power parity” – whether exchange rates mean that a product costs the same in different countries. Credit: Getty Images.

How much will a Big Mac cost you in Lima? Or Abu Dhabi? The answers can tell you a lot about “purchasing power parity (PPP)” – whether exchange rates mean that a product costs the same in different countries. A tool to make this theory more “digestible” was launched by The Economist in 1986.

It allows comparison of several base currencies to others around the world. As they wrote this month: “A Big Mac currently costs $5.06 in America but just 10.75 lira ($2.75) in Turkey, implying that the lira is undervalued.”

Since McDonald’s restaurants aren’t so common in Africa, the market research firm Sagaci Research invented the supplementary “KFC index” to analyse PPP there.

Mars Bars

In 1932, a factory in Slough produced the world’s first Mars bar. Fifty years later, Financial Times writer Nico Colchester pointed out that the price of the confectionary in Britain was neatly correlated with the buying power of pound sterling. By measuring the cost of things in Mars Bars, Colechester noted how graduate salaries had improved slightly in 40 years. Meanwhile, train fares had become cheaper but roast beef dinners in pubs had gone up by more than 60 percent.

Baked Beans and Popcorn

Higher sales of popcorn in cinemas was taken as a sign of economic recovery in Britain following the financial crisis of 2008. Credit: Getty Images.

When financial experts are trying to determine whether an economy is generally in good health, they often look to food products. In 2009, the Odeon cinema company announced an “Odeon Popcorn Index” that it claimed showed higher sales and therefore signs of economic recovery in Britain following the financial crisis of 2008.

And analysts have also scrutinised sales of baked beans, popular when times are tough, as an indicator of how people are responding to periods of economic decline. When baked bean sales fell in 2013, some took it as a sign that the UK economy was in rude health.

French Fries

A fascinating article in the Oregonian in 1998 observed that sales of French fries could be a helpful indicator of trade between America and Asia. This food “leads US industries into foreign markets” wrote Richard Read, thanks to the fact that America exports so many of them (something that remains true today).

And he added that consumption of French fries was also an indicator of how well-developed an Asian economy had become. This meant that when economic trouble in Asia was brewing in the late ’90s, farmers in the US were hit hard.

Waffle House Index

US authorities have used the length of the Waffle House menu to see if supplies at the restaurant are low after hurricanes. Credit: Flickr/Steve Snodgrass.

How bad was that hurricane? The length of a fast-food restaurant’s menu can be a quick guide, it seems. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States keeps a check on the length of the menu at Waffle House outlets in the aftermath of natural disasters. If customers are being offered a limited menu, food supplies at the restaurant may be low and it might only have generator power. If the restaurant is closed? “That’s really bad,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate once said.

By: Chris Baraniuk

Source: How Fast Food Reveals Secrets of the Economy


Related contents:

Food market structures: Overview”. Economic Research Service (USDA).Food Democracy: From consumer to food citizen. Springer. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-981-287-423-8.A Handbook of Food Crime: Immoral and Illegal Practices in the Food Industry and What to Do About Them. Policy Press. pp. 371–. ISBN 978-1-4473-5628-8.

The Industrial Food System”, Food Democracy: From consumer to food citizen, SpringerBriefs in Public Health, Singapore: Springer, pp. 3–11, doi:10.1007/978-981-287-423-8_2, ISBN 978-981-287-423-8, retrieved 26 November 2020Big Food, Food Systems, and Global Health”. PLOS Medicine. 9 (6): e1001242. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001242. ISSN 1549-1676. PMC 3378592. PMID 22723746.

Professional medical organizations and commercial conflicts of interest: ethical issues”. Annals of Family Medicine. 8 (4): 354–358. doi:10.1370/afm.1140. ISSN 1544-1717. PMC 2906531. PMID 20644191.“Reducing global food system emissions key to meeting climate goals”. Retrieved 8 December 2020.

Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets”. Science. 370 (6517): 705–708. Bibcode:2020Sci…370..705C. doi:10.1126/science.aba7357. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 33154139. S2CID 226254942. Retrieved 8 December 2020.A sustainable food system for the European Union (PDF). Berlin: SAPEA. p. 39. doi:10.26356/sustainablefood. ISBN 978-3-9820301-7-3.

Sustainable Food Sourcing and Distribution in the Vermont-Regional Food System” (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017. Regulating Food Law: Risk Analysis and the Precautionary Principle as General Principles of EU Food Law. Wageningen Academic Pub. ISBN 9789086861941. Retrieved 22 January 2017.

“Global food industry on course to drive rapid habitat loss – research”. The Guardian. 21 December 2020. Retrieved 17 January 2021.“Current food production systems could mean far-reaching habitat loss”. Retrieved 17 January 2021.Proactive conservation to prevent habitat losses to agricultural expansion”. Nature Sustainability. 4 (4): 314–322. doi:10.1038/s41893-020-00656-5. ISSN 2398-9629. S2CID 229346085. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2021.

“Boosting efficiency at the DC”. Grocery Headquarters. Archived from the original on 7 March 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2012.“World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision”. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (United Nations).Innovation spurred by COVID-19 crisis highlights ‘potential of small-scale farmers.

“Amid Pandemic, Local Company Delivering Meat And Fresh, Organic Sustainable Foods”. 22 May 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020.The Impact of Industry Self-Regulation on the Nutritional Quality of Foods Advertised to Children on Television” (PDF). Children Now.Neat Facts About United States Agriculture Archived 14 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 19 November 2013“Employment by major industry sector”. 19 December 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2014.

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Do Food Delivery Riders Eat Your Food On The Way

It is difficult to ignore the scent of a stunning meal— especially if it belongs to another human. That at least is the suggestion of a recent study, which found that almost 30% of drivers snack from their food. The US Foods study, which provides food delivery for restaurants, collected information from nearly 500 food delivery and over 1,500 U.S. consumers who order apps like DoorDash, Postmates, and UberEats.

Have you ordered large fries on UberEats with your burger, but do you feel a little less than huge when opening the bag to dig in fried fries?  As a result, the delivery person is worriedly likely to be entangled in some of them on the road to your house, 28 percent of delivery drivers said in a recently published US Foods survey they have taken food from delivery orders.

A recent survey showed that almost 30% of the drivers require their food to be gnashed before they drop their meal. After food supply distributor US Foods questioned about 500 food supply drivers and 1,500 clients who order their “habits and pain points” via apps, the nausea-inducing findings emerged.

Have you ever wondered if the driver had previously handled your food? How doesn’t the pizza guy take a bit of pizza and lose control? I would be tempted to take a slice when I drove a delivery with a big pepperoni pizza. And, maybe eat the knots of garlic. The guy must be a bit slack, he’s got to drive the scent of pizza there, just haunting him. This requires serious skills. But what if you lose control and eat pizza with your driver?

Representatives between the ages of 18 and 77 with a median age of 31. Drivers with at least one food supply application recorded a median age of 30. The company asked both groups about their “customs and pain points” in order to better understand the process of buying and distributing meals. Of these drivers surveyed, 54% agreed that they were tempted by the smell of customer’s food, and around half of the drivers actually took an injection.

“We’re sorry to report that at times, the driving forces get the best of the suppliers, and their sacred duties are breached by taking some of the food.”

When asked if your driver wanted any fries, the average customer response was 8.4 out of 10— 1 was “no great deal” and 10 was “absolutely unacceptable.” “No big deal.”

To address the issue, 85% of customers suggested adding obvious labels or packets that are usually in the form of an adhesive seal to the question. There are plans in place for some delivery services.

Postmates told NPR that less than 0.06% of the complaints it receives are food-tamping events. Nevertheless, “Any person who makes a supply through Postmates specifically agrees to the degree that any foodstuffs and goods supplied come in the form of flawless items, in accordance with all relevant legislation on food safety and health.”

Doordash advises its drivers not to open or exploit food containers in any way. If a client reports food violations, the company says that the driver’s account will be switched off. Ultimately, food delivery restaurants are a growing industry that transforms the way people eat. In 2018, UBS found an average of 40 most-downloaded apps in key markets in food delivery platforms.

“We assume that by 2030 the vast majority of meals that are cooked at home could instead be ordered online and supplied from restaurants or central kitchens,” says UBS.

By: Rita C



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Plant-Based in a Pinch: The Frozen Food Aisle Is Turning Vegan, Organic, and Nutritious

Frozen food holds an interesting position in modern food history. Flash freezing has been hailed as a technological marvel that made nutritious vegetables accessible to urban and suburban Americans virtually anywhere, at any time of year. But TV dinners have also been pinned as a symbol of the domination of processed foods over the American diet — a move away from natural, wholesome foods from the earth and instead toward laboratory-made sugar and salt bombs that are shortening our lifespans. 

The frozen food industry is rapidly growing

Like with any complicated subject, the conclusion to be drawn isn’t as simple as “frozen food is good” or “frozen food is bad.” It’s true that flash-frozen fruits and vegetables were and continue to be a helpful innovation that allows people to get vitamin and nutrient-dense foods into their diets. It’s also true that some frozen food brands sell meals that are incredibly high in calories, sugar, and cholesterol, with very few necessary vitamins and minerals to balance it out.

Related: The Best Way to Brand Your Plant-Based Business

But people today are busy, and with the continuing effects of the global health crisis on supply chains, access to fresh food is challenging in a way many of us have never experienced before. The frozen food market, globally, was valued at $291.3 billion in 2019, and was expected to continue growing even before the pandemic. Frozen, ready-to-eat meals make up a significant portion of that figure. The time-saving, long-lasting, satisfying and potentially nutritious properties of frozen foods are just too tempting to pass up right now.

Expect more from the frozen aisle 

Fortunately, there are lots of producers branching out beyond trays of chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes, to offer more diverse flavors and healthier options in the frozen food aisle.

Amy’s Kitchen, the well-established vegetarian food brand, has been on this beat for some time. They have a hefty array of frozen, prepared foods, including veggie burger patties, pizzas, and microwaveable breakfast burritos. Lots of their products are vegan, as well as organic and non-GMO, making them great snacks or no-effort dinners for busy people looking for healthier options in a pinch. And some popular plant-based brands didn’t start off in the frozen food aisle but have since expanded there. Daiya, best known for their vegan cheese shreds and slices, now sells ready-to-cook pizzas and microwavable burritos.

Kashi, the health food brand you might know better for their cereals and granolas, also offers a line of frozen prepared meals —  all of which are vegan and non-GMO, and come in globally-inspired recipes like chimichurri quinoa bowls and mayan harvest bake.

Related: Make the Most of Your Frozen Fruit and Vegetable Supply With a Nutribullet

Even brands that do sell meat and other animal products seem to be making a concentrated effort to keep up with consumers’ growing interest in plant-based eating by offering clearly labeled, vegan-friendly meals. Frontera, which sells a variety of Mexican-inspired snacks and meal starters, has a full line of frozen meals and skillet kits in traditional, meaty varieties, but also plant-based ones that center beans and veggies, like their three bean taco bowl that includes lively ingredients like plantains, chard, fire-roasted peppers, and kale. Similarly, Saffron Road is a brand that sells snacks, meals, and accouterments mostly inspired by Indian cuisine. Their frozen selection, like Frontera, includes meat-centric options as well as totally vegan ones, like their pre-made vegetable biryani.

Frozen prepared meals offer the convenience of TV dinners to consumers with special dietary needs and interests, like vegetarianism or veganism, and in many cases offer gluten-free, soy-free, or otherwise allergen-free options as well. But well-established, as well as up-and-coming plant-based food brands, also offer sides and dinner helpers, in addition to full, TV dinner-style meals.

Quick plant-based meals are increasingly available

Since, as research shows, much of the frozen food market is still dominated by meat, it only makes sense that plant-based companies in the freezer aisle would offer mains and sides to help complete a vegan dinner, too. When you have time to do a little cooking, but going from scratch just isn’t going to happen, plant-based and environmentally conscious consumers can throw on something like frozen cauliflower wings or spinach bites to have on the table quickly.

One such brand offering meal accouterments would be Strong Roots, offering delectable cauliflower hash browns. Their line of sides/snacks and burger patties are very veggie-centric and made from unique ingredient combinations, like their beetroot and bean burger or broccoli and purple carrot bites. With their simple, easily-pronounceable ingredient lists, they’re proving that not all frozen food is laden with heaps of salt, sugar, and mystery ingredients.

Related: ‘One Email From Whole Foods Launched My Entire Business,’ Says the Co-Founder of a Gluten Free Frozen Food Brand

Similarly, RollinGreens offers slightly elevated, healthier alternatives to kid favorites like tater tots and wings. Instead of potato, their tots are made of millet, vegetables, and spices, making for a snack or side that boasts a simple ingredient list and low glycemic index. The simplicity factor goes for their cauliflower wings as well, which come in teriyaki, sweet mustard, and spicy green buffalo varieties.

Plant-based startups and old standbys alike are putting options onto the fast-growing frozen food market that are changing the character of the category. No longer is frozen food confined to its reputation as a convenient but overall unhealthy and unnatural product. Shelves are now stocked with meals, sides, and snacks that balance the health and environmental concerns of modern consumers with their busy schedules and need for quick, easy options. At a time when we’re all overworked and stressed, a quick and wholesome dinner might be exactly what we need.

By: Brian Kateman Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

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Chicken Wings With Traces of COVID Reignite Questions About Food Borne Transmission Risks

Daily Life In Dalian Amid The Coronavirus Outbreak

Officials in China’s southern metropolis Shenzhen reported Thursday they had found traces of COVID-19 on a batch of chicken wings imported from South America. Media reports soon claimed chicken wings had “tested positive” for coronavirus, stoking fears the virus has found its way into the world’s food supply. However, the World Health Organization says that’s not a concern.

“We have no examples of where this virus has been transmitted as a food-borne [disease], where someone has consumed a food product [and become infected],” WHO head of emerging diseases unit Maria van Kerkhove said during a regular press briefing Thursday.

Although COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus, meaning it originated in an animal before transferring to humans, it likely didn’t do so through consumption. As Van Kerkhove points out, if the virus was in our meat supply it would be killed when the meat is cooked. Raw food, like sushi or even runny eggs, poses more of a risk, but so far the virus has not been found inside those products.

The original outbreak of COVID-19 at a market in Wuhan more likely occurred because humans had close contact with both live and dead animals and didn’t take proper hygiene precautions, such as washing their hands.

Still, a recent flurry of incidents connecting coronavirus outbreaks with food markets has caused concern. In June Beijing shut down a seafood market after a cluster of COVID-19 cases were traced to one of the stalls there. Officials speculated the virus had been imported along with fish from Europe, prompting a sudden boycott of Norwegian salmon.

This week, New Zealand reinstated a nationwide lockdown after a COVID-19 cluster emerged in Auckland. The island country had gone 102 days without a single local transmission case before the cluster emerged. Local authorities are investigating whether the virus could have been imported along with frozen food since one of the patients worked at a cold storage unit.


Chinese officials also suspended meat imports from three Ecuadorean companies this week after COVID-19 was found on packages of frozen prawns. Samples taken from inside the packages and from the prawns themselves tested negative for coronavirus.

“The results show that the container and the packaging of these companies are under the risk of becoming contaminated by the novel coronavirus. Experts said that while this does not mean they can transmit the virus, it shows that the management of food safety is not ideal,” Bi Kexin, director general of China’s Import and Export Food Safety Bureau, said about the suspect prawn imports.

In the case of the Shenzhen chicken wings, too, COVID-19 was found only on the surface of the chicken and the packaging of the meat—not inside the chicken itself……

Read More: Fortune


What It’s Like To Launch A New Restaurant During A Pandemic


In 2017, Filipino-Brazilian chef Laila Bazahm threw caution to the wind and opened her first restaurant in Barcelona. Since then, Hawker 45 has gone from strength to strength, firmly establishing itself as a local favorite on the Barcelona food scene. Earlier this year, Bazahm decided the time had come to expand the Hawker 45 brand. Not one to do things by halves, she agreed to take over the entire food and beverage offering at AxelBeach Ibiza, a popular LGBTQ+ hotel situated on the beachfront in San Antonio Bay on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Then COVID-19 struck.

This is Laila Bazahm’s story of what it’s like to open a new restaurant—despite being in the midst of a pandemic.

Isabelle Kliger: Please describe your new project at AxelBeach Ibiza.

Laila Bazahm: AxelBeach Ibiza is a “heterofriendly” LGBTQ+ hotel comprising 96 apartments. As of this year, I’m responsible for managing all its food and beverage outlets, including a restaurant, a beach bar, a pool bar, breakfast service and room service, along with 12 members of staff. Compared with overseeing a team of five at my restaurant in Barcelona, it’s quite a large operation. We serve everything from Hawker 45’s signature pan-Asian crowd-pleasers like Singaporean Laksa, Thai-style chicken wings and Malaysian Rendang curry, to beach food like burgers, and a full breakfast menu.

Kliger: What was your original plan and to what extent have you been forced to change it?

Bazahm: We had intended to open on April 1, in good time for summer, but then COVID happened. We finally ended up opening on June 24. Some of the things we’d planned were left hanging this year, due to the uncertainty around how the season would play out, and how reduced traffic would affect our revenue. For example, I had a lot of ideas about marketing, social media, brand collaborations and PR that I wasn’t willing to risk committing to. We also held off on investing in design elements like proper lighting and quality signage. And then there were the parties: Ibiza is all about parties, especially at an LGBTQ+ hotel, where people are looking to make new friends. Big, wild parties just aren’t happening here this season.

Kliger: What safety measures have been implemented as a result of the pandemic?

Bazahm: Firstly, we were all required to take a special course related to COVID-19 protocols. Secondly, we had to cut our occupancy by half and ensure five feet of distance between all sun loungers and tables. Staff wear facemasks and gloves and have their temperature checked daily. In addition, we have to observe a “no dancing” policy, which is quite a challenge, since the majority of our guests come to Ibiza to party.

Kliger: Is everyone following the rules?

Bazahm: Unfortunately, some of the clubs on the island are not fully respecting the social distancing rules and have been organizing crowded parties where not everyone is wearing masks. We refuse to do that. Having experienced the lockdown in Barcelona, and with family in the U.S. and the Philippines, we’re acutely aware of the potential consequences of ignoring social distancing guidelines. We don’t want to contribute to another outbreak.

Kliger: What made you decide to go ahead and open despite the pandemic?

Bazahm: This is our first year collaborating with Axel Hotels. They’ve been tremendously supportive, and that made the decision to go ahead considerably easier. The season may be shorter than usual, but we believed people would come, so we wanted to give it a go. And since we’re in it for the long haul, we figured we’d break even, but learn a lot, and come back stronger next year.

I’ll admit I had a lot of doubts and fears but, sometimes, you just have to jump first and build your plane on the way down.

Kliger: What has been the most challenging aspect of opening a restaurant during a pandemic?

Bazahm: Opening a restaurant—or any other venture for that matter—is already insanely stressful. With COVID, it’s completely nerve-wracking! There are so many factors outside our control, and we live with the ever-present threat of another outbreak and shutdown. I worry a lot about the safety of our team, since we’re all susceptible to catching the virus, no matter how careful we are. That really keeps me up at night.

From a practical perspective, hitting our occupancy targets has been challenging. Dealing with suppliers, many of whom have staff in Spain’s temporary worker furlough scheme, has been a nightmare. But we’re also grateful to the people who’ve offered to help us out.

Kliger: What advice would you give other restaurateurs who might be thinking about whether or not to launch a new project in the current circumstances?

Bazahm: Every situation is different and, in this pandemic, there’s no playbook we can rely on. I mean, who gets into a sport where, the longer you play, the more likely you are to die? If you’re in any kind of entrepreneurial business, you are essentially a gladiator. It requires incredible strength and a very particular psychology. But launching a public-facing, entrepreneurial venture during a global pandemic takes a special kind of madness. It’s definitely not for everyone.

Follow me on Twitter.

Having grown up in Sweden and studied in the U.K., I moved to Barcelona in 2010 and have never looked back. I write about travel, with a particular focus on all things sustainable and local, and pop culture. My ideal day would involve getting lost in a new city, stumbling upon a tiny restaurant, and getting to sample a dish I’ve never had before. If it happens to be served with red wine or gin (or any kind of local spirit—I’m not fussy), even better. My work can be found in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Departures International, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, and more. Follow me on Instagram @ikliger.



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