In an obvious but well-timed bid to compete with other chain restaurants' efforts to provide more calorie-cutting offerings, Chick-fil-A, the prominent purveyors of fried chicken sammies to willing masses of mall-walkers, is now serving oatmeal. As of this past Monday, the current menu is lightly seasoned with less-bad-for-you items such as fruit cups and....well, that's about it, since granola is still not a health food and Chick-fil-A's carrot & raisin salad should be shot out of cannons at terrorists. The oatmeal is multigrain -- flax, whole wheat and buckwheat as well as steel-cut and slow-cooked, with topping choices that include cinnamon brown sugar, roasted mixed nuts -- almonds, pecans, walnuts -- and dried fruit blend (cranberries, blueberries, golden raisins and cherries). Or you could order it plain and significantly slash the calories, sugar and fat -- but doesn't the fact that you are eating oatmeal rationalize the volcano cap of goodies?
We had more questions than that. So we queried Mark Baldwin of Chick-fil-A Inc. to establish the basic mise en scene on the new Chick-fil-oatmeal.
Us: Why use real oatmeal instead of instant? Mark: You're able to retain the nutritional quality with real oatmeal. You lose a lot of the nutritional content with instant oatmeal, because the outer bran is removed and some of the inner nutrients are removed. Instant oatmeal is what most of our competition is serving and is what consumers are most familiar with; however, the nutritional impact is very low.
(Us again: This is tough to deny, but from the point of offering, it's actually up to the customers to decide whether or not they wanna spackle their originally healthy oatmeal with sugar, nuts and fruit that will double the counts. If people were capable of making good decisions all the time, then jails would be empty, Fox News would be replaced with the 24-hour butterscotch pudding-wrestling channel, and Judge Joe Brown would be unemployed.)
Us: If customers request an order of oatmeal topped with chicken, or a side of chicken with it, is this a request that your stores would be willing to fulfill?
Mark: Never thought about topping oatmeal with chicken but, yes, we would fulfill that request if a customer asked. Our philosophy is to fulfill any product customization a customer requests as long as it is humanly possible and the customer is willing to wait for us to prepare the product as requested. (Us again: How dare you suggest that suburbanite Americans wait for anything?!? If they want deep-fried chicken dipped in oatmeal and then deep-fried again you better deliver it last Tuesday.)
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Us: Do you feel that your customers will embrace the new breakfast oatmeal when they are accustomed to Chick-fil-A serving chicken?
Mark: Absolutely. Our customers have been loud and clear that they would like healthier breakfast alternatives, so we have added some of those items in recent years, including our yogurt parfait, multigrain bagel, fruit cup, etc. Our core menu is and always will be chicken-based, but we also are very intentional about listening to our customers and respond to their requests accordingly.
(Us again: That's all shiny and new, but doesn't one of your yogurt parfaits come topped with chocolate cookie crumbs, isn't the chicken, egg & cheese bagel weighing in at 490 calories and 20 grams of fat, and that fruit cup of yours...okay, so the fruit cup is fine.)