Healthy eating has moved from the niche to the mainstream, especially among Generation Z (see our feature this issue). If you’re in any doubt, the arrival of ‘Fast Healthy’ – fast food outlets which specialise in healthy produce – should convince you: if it’s delivering to the lucrative quick serve sector, it’s finding customers.
With healthy, the goalposts keep moving – time was, Subway was considered healthy, but it doesn’t cut it with the savvy Generation Z-ers who are looking for local fresh organic ingredients, adventurous salads, and fancy grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
In the US, where all trends start, chains like Jason’s Deli and Au Bon Pain are wowing the crowds. Closer to home, Tasty Eating checked out two chains whose core offering is ultra-healthy. Forget the healthy-ish side-menu, in Chopped and Sprout, you can’t not be green.
Chopped was founded in 2012 by Dublin entrepreneurs Brian Lee and Andy Chen. Expansion has been rapid. From three wholly-owned Chopped outlets in Dublin, it currently has over 20 stores across the country and aims to have 40 stores by the end of this year and to expand with six stores in the UK. It was named ‘Best Emerging Franchise’ in 2016. Chopped is a ‘fast healthy’ giant.
Sprout & Co Kitchen is newer and with fewer outlets. Its first store opened in Dawson Street, Dublin in 2013 and it now has three more stores in Dublin and one in Dunboyne. The brothers behind the business, Jack and Theo Kirwin, started off making juices which they sold in Avoca and Spar. Now they’ve moved into solid fare – salads, wraps, noodles.
For this review, I had to do without my usual small diners who are generally so helpful and discerning. There may be people who can sell Fast Healthy to kids as a great option for eating out but I am not one of them.
I’m not Generation Z but in keeping with this demographic, I decided to beat the queues and try the app. Both chains use Flipdish. I downloaded the Chopped app.
This is easy to use: you press the option ‘Collect’ (you can get Chopped delivered through Deliveroo, but that adds to the cost and I was heading to town anyway). The app guides you through ‘Creating your own’ but this involves choosing your meat/protein, toppings, lettuce and dressing and to be honest, the only other time I tried Chopped, I made a complete mess of ordering my own, so I decided to go with one of the classics and chose ‘Street Mexican’.
This is Mexican chicken with sun-dried tomato, pineapple, jalapenos, and guindilla peppers. But on top of this there are choices to be made: do you want a Bowl (€7.50), Wrap (€7) or Sandwich (€6.50)? The Bowl is the most expensive but has far less calories (355.5 against 629.2 and 524.2 respectively) so since I was on a healthy kick, I went with that (noting that this is a good deal for the retailer – less calories for more money). I was then invited to choose between eight types of lettuce/salad– from Cos to Super Greens (add 40c). I went with ‘mixed house’. I declined the options of extra chicken (€2) and extra onion (+ 50c), but had to choose between 20 dressings with names like ‘Rebel Chili’, ‘Dubliner’, ‘New Orleans’, ‘Cajun Lemon’ – I stuck with the recommended ‘Mexican’. After declining a chia seed shake and a soup of the day, I was still on €7.50 for lunch.
I cycled into Grafton Street to collect my bowl. The outlet was crowded so it was good to escape the queues, although there are some advantages to being able to see the greens before choosing them, and it’s also really fun to watch the white-clad servers take an impressive looking meat cleaver and chop your salad to bits. My Bowl was waiting for me, so I only got to watch them chop other people’s. There is a tiny sliver of counter where you can stand and eat, but since it was sunny I took my bowl out (with plastic cutlery) and wandered into the Trinity cricket pitch to find a bench.
A wrap or sandwich would have been handier finger food on the move – or perhaps that’s just what we’re used to. But once I got accustomed to shovelling greens into me on a bench, Mexican chicken was good: the sweetness of the pineapples perfectly complemented the sharpness of the jalapenos and guindilla peppers, and the chicken was spicy and juicy. It’s a big portion size but you don’t feel gorged. Thumbs Up.
I’m familiar with Sprout through its excellent coffee and breakfast menu (served till 11.30am) – I’m a fan of the Chia Seed Porridge. Now I decide to try it for lunch.
Sprout’s concept is similar to Chopped: a ‘protein grain’ bowl, wraps and soups. You can create your own bowl, but it’s easier to go with the tried and tested. I opt for one of the vegetarian options, the ‘Super Guacabowle’ – Guacamole, Roasted Butternut Squash, Carrot, Red Cabbage, Quinoa, Pomegranate, Apple, Toasted Seeds, Feta and French Dressing – for €8.50 and add falafel for a further €1.50. There are also chicken and turkey options for similar prices. All this is tossed together with gusto if not quite with Chopped’s meat cleavers.
As juices are a core offering, I go for the Sweetgreen (spinach, mint, apple and lemon). You may have seen this in a Spar near you. That’s €4.50.
Sprout in Dawson Street has long canteen-style tables which are always packed, but this is fast dining, you never have to wait long. My Guacabowle was about as good as fast healthy can be – lots of different flavours and textures gelling together – from the hearty (squash and quinoa) to the zesty (feta and French dressing) with some crunch (seeds). It was also enormous. The juice was yum – best way to smuggle in raw spinach that I’ve found.
Sprout is a bit more expensive than Chopped and neither is cheap, but as we know Generation Z will pay for quality, which is what you’re getting here. Neither is a place you’d take the family for a treat, but both offer great food on the move to the health-conscious.
Is fast healthy best left to dedicated operators like these? I’m inclined to think so but McDonald’s in the US is making waves with its 260- to 270-calorie Snack Wraps.