£4 Dominos and £5 KFC: Health fears as fast food lunch becomes ‘suitable for the workplace’

OOffice workers looking for a cheap lunch on the high street may struggle. With inflation pushing up prices in recent years, a sandwich, snack and drink at popular coffee chains can now cost more than £10, while even the average supermarket meal deal has increased by more than 21% in price since before the pandemic.

But now fast food chains have stepped up to fill the gap in the market. In March, KFC introduced a new lunch deal for £5.49, offering a fried chicken wrap with a drink and a side (chips or a biscuit), available Monday to Friday until 3pm. “KFC is now suitable for the workplace, for when finger licking is not,” the chain said in its promotional material.

Last month, pizza chain Domino’s followed suit and launched a £4 lunch deal.

In a television advertisement, an employee brings one of the £4 pizzas back to the office, much to the envy of colleagues. “We want to steal our competitors’ lunch,” said Harry Dromey, Domino’s marketing director. “There is a lot of room for us to grow during the day.” Last month it also announced that it planned to open an additional 700 stores by 2033.

A Greggs meal deal for £2.85. Photo: PR

In a cost of living crisis, affordable takeaway food is in high demand. Last year, bakery chain Greggs reported record pre-tax profits and plans to expand to more stores after the turn 19.6% of the takeaway breakfast market in Britain in 2023, beating McDonald’s. It offers breakfast meal deals from £2.85 and lunch deals from £3.60.

Health experts have raised concerns about fast food chains, such as KFC and Domino’s, offering cheap lunch deals. Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said: “These options are not an everyday nutritious choice. The problem with many of these meals is the food they displace. Many contain a lot of fat or sugar and hardly any fiber. As a one-time meal, there is nothing wrong with these meals. Frequency is the concern.”

Fran Bernhardt of Sustain, who campaigns for better food and farming, and a ban on junk food advertising, is concerned that fast food is filling a gap as prices rise at other outlets and on healthier options. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for many of us to get healthier food, especially as more and more people are living at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis. The flood of unhealthy food limits our choices.”

A new KFC lunch meal with a burger, snack and drink costs £5.49. Photo: Gary Calton/The Observer

Meaningful Vision, which studies the foodservice industry, finds that fast-food chains’ promotions will increase by 15% in 2023 compared to 2022. In 2024, promotional activities will increase by another 22%, mainly in the form of meal deals. “The growth in meal deals is a response by fast food companies to consumers’ economic concerns,” said Maria Vanifatova, CEO of Meaningful Vision.

Chloe Mackean, business engagement manager at the Food Foundation, a food policy charity, said: “While we recognize that the main courses that some fast food chains offer as part of their deal are lower calorie options, if you eat it alongside a sugary drink and chips, chips or cookies. If fast food chains are serious about delivering meaningful health improvements, as their recently published nutrition strategies state, they must ensure healthy options are included in their meal offerings.”

The government has been criticized for delaying the ban on junk food advertising until 2025. Advocates hope this will help tackle Britain’s obesity and overweight rates, which are among the highest in Europe. The Scottish Government is consulting on restricting meal deals that include food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

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“Advertising works,” Bernhardt said. “We urge the government to fully implement the watershed on TV and online and propose restrictions on all other advertising sites so we can take unhealthy food out of the spotlight for everyone.”

KFC said: “We aim to offer choice and healthy, balanced meals alongside good value for money. We’ve introduced under 500 calorie options, which are proving popular… We’ve made nutritional improvements including reformulating our fries, removing full sugar Pepsi from all our restaurants, improving the variety and nutritional value of our side dishes, and making nutritional content available to all customers. There is more we can do, which is why we want 70% of our menu to consist of non-HFSS products (high in fat, salt and sugar) by 2025.

Domino’s said: “Domino’s prides itself on offering its customers great value for money, especially at a time when they are feeling pressure on their budgets. Our £4 lunch has proven hugely popular with struggling consumers, offering options with “fewer calories than many sandwiches and other lunch alternatives”.