Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A second look at LYFE

The big-leaguers crafting the LYFE fast-casual concept have invested a year already in the quest to develop healthful dishes that won’t fail a blindfold test.

Take some of the public’s favorite foods, put them next to LYFE’s reformulated versions, and give the would-be customer a fork. If she can’t tell the difference, the LYFE recipe gets a thumbs-up from the chefs and former McDonald’s execs molding the Fast Food 2.0 upstart for a late-summer debut.

“If a truck driver decides he wants a classic burger with cheese and his wife wants a burger made of garden protein, neither will have to sacrifice taste to get something under 600 calories,” says Mike Donahue, one of the McDonald’s alumni behind the new venture.

Other specialties will likely include corn chowder that uses cashews instead of dairy products to make the soup rich and flavorful, he says. LYFE expects it to be a takeout signature, based on how many people have already asked chef Tal Ronnen if they can take home a pint or quart for the family.

Donahue also mentions a line of flatbreads that’ll hit the concept’s dual targets of taste and guiltlessness.
LYFE’s intended audience, he says, are women aged 19 to 49—the moms, sisters and significant others of the men usually targeted by traditional fast food places.

Mindful of new consumer sensibilities, the LYFE (“Love Your Food Everyday”) team is striving to make the concept as eco-friendly as it can be. That includes kicking the tires of alternative delivery vehicles like Smart cars and electric scooters, and shopping for uniforms and takeout materials made from sustainable materials, says Donahue.

A major thrust of that effort is using local, seasonal and sustainable foods whenever possible.

Tal Ronnen, one of the country’s most renowned vegetarian chefs, will be joined in crafting the menu by Art Smith, a favorite chef of the Obamas and a leader in teaching children how to grow their food and eat more healthfully.

On the business side are Mike Roberts, the former president of McDonald’s, and Stephen Sidwell, head of a boutique investment firm.

The prototype is slated for Palo Alto, Calif., in the heart of California’s high-tech corridor. The team will focus on building out the Palo Alto market before it begins expansion, said Donahue, who’s serving as chief communications officer.

He notes that social media will be LYFE’s major marketing channel.

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