CULVER CITY, Calif. — Tony Haney considers himself a fairly healthy eater — he tries to eat fruit and vegetables at home and usually orders roast chicken or teriyaki rice when he eats out.
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But when he hits a fast-food joint, Haney falls under a greasy spell. On a recent trip to Wendy's, he passed up a side salad in favor of a baked potato topped with cheddar and bacon with his hamburger combo meal.
"You may walk in here feeling like you want to do something good for yourself," said Haney, an actor and screenwriter in his mid-30s, "but it's hard to resist when you smell the grease."
One option Haney no longer had: a fruit bowl of melon, pineapple and grapes.
Wendy's dropped the entree-sized bowl and a smaller fruit cup last month — they just didn't sell enough.
"We put a strong push behind it," said Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini. "But as we got through the summer and moved to fall, the fruit was not meeting our sales expectation."
Though McDonald's has found some success with its fruit offerings, many people apparently still prefer to indulge when they eat out.
In 2004, the top three items ordered at restaurants were burgers, french fries and pizza, according to the NPD Group, a consumer marketing research firm. And while recent studies found that Americans' consumption of fruit and vegetable is on the rise, most people are eating those things at home.
Wendy's introduced the fruit items in February to provide healthier choices and counter publicity blaming fast food for Americans' expanding waistlines. The bowl cost around $4.19, the cup around $2.19.
Neither Wendy's nor McDonald's would release specific sales figures for their healthier offerings.
In 2002, Wendy's began improving its salad offerings, same-store sales rose 4.7 percent, an increase the company partly attributed to salad sales, Dennis Milton, an analyst at Standard & Poor's. Same-store sales for McDonald's restaurants increased 9.6 percent in 2004 and 4.4 percent last year, an increase the chain attributed in part to improved menu offerings.
Wendy's mistake might have been in its choice of fruit — melons can have a short shelf life — not the choice to offer fruit in the first place.
"Wendy's had the right idea to offer fruit, but knowing the fresh cut fruit business, melons are harder to work with than hardier fruits," said Elizabeth Pivonka, a nutritionist and president of Produce for Better Health Foundation.
Bertini, the spokesman for Wendy's, said that fruit did not sell well in cold weather and that the chain may reintroduce it sometime.
Milton said healthy food has been key to the fast-food industry's growth in the past three years, particularly at McDonald's, where healthier menu items have attracted women and health-conscious eaters.
"Wendy's is more an exception than the rule," Milton said. "It has helped set the trend in motion with the success of its salads a couple years ago. McDonald's is just having more success at the expense of Wendy's."
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