Nowadays, offering “healthy food” isn’t just about lowering calories, salt, and fat—it’s about providing wholesome, tasty menu options that customers can feel good about. It’s all part of a trend that responds to a fundamental shift from fad diets to healthy lifestyles on the part of consumers.
For operators, that takes a whole new mindset, putting the customer in the driver’s seat about their choices, and meeting the demand for lighter options, conscientious sourcing, vegetarian and vegan selections, and gluten and other allergen-free products.
Did You Know? Nestlé Professional parent, Nestlé USA, was part of a group of companies called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. They have exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400%.
Because despite the government-mandated push toward menu labeling, consumers don’t necessarily want to be reminded that food is healthy in the traditional sense, since many equate attributes like low-calorie with lack of flavor and satisfaction.
Yet health and wellness continues to drive menu trends, as well as customer traffic. For every study that shows patrons eschewing menu items with healthy labels, another suggests they seek them out. There is even evidence that dining-out occasions are in a state of decline due to consumer concerns about the lack of available healthful options.
- Boston Market has been making it easier for customers to choose wisely for several years now, reducing sodium in many of its recipes and offering numerous meal choices at under 550 calories
Get Started: Low-sodium products from Nestlé Professional include everything from Trio® Low Sodium Brown Gravy Mix to Minor’s® Chicken Base Low Sodium (No Added MSG)* Gluten Free.
At the University of North Texas, in Denton, students can choose among several wellness-focused dining options, including Mean Greens @ Maple, with its vegan menu offerings and sustainability-minded approach
Omni Hotels takes a flavor-first approach to all of its menus, emphasizing the importance of staff communication rather than labels to identify “stealth-health” offerings that are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free
More hospitals are making an effort to make their menus to match the message of healthier lifestyles, not just for patients but also staff and visitors; Pomerado Hospital in San Diego, for example, is offering more healthy grain-based items such as whole wheat pasta
Get Started: The Stouffer’s® lineup includes a number of whole grain options such as Macaroni and Cheese, Pasta Made with Whole Grains.
Google’s employee cafeterias are famously health-oriented (in addition to being free), including color-coded food tags and a salad bar that takes up prime real estate in the entryway, encouraging Googlers to load up on fruits and veggies first
Here are some trends you can leverage to make sure your customers have the healthy options they seek. See if one or more of them work for you:
Push the Veggies: Beyond vegan and vegetarian and Meatless Monday menu initiatives, incorporating more produce-based choices is a smart idea. This includes not only salads and soups, but also pasta and pizzas, vegetable sides, and fruit desserts. Ethnic selections such as Chinese stir-fries which emphasize vegetables and grains rather than animal protein also fill the bill.
Let the Customer Customize: Food bars and DIY concepts such as Build Your Own Pizza and customizable meal platforms are an excellent vehicle for accommodating customer choice—whether they choose healthy, vegetarian, or even hearty indulgent. Custom builds also address patron demand for variety.
"Mini-Mize" the Portions: Smaller portions mean fewer calories, especially when it comes to desserts—thus the continuing fascination with mini desserts. Offering more small plates and appetizers, as well as popular menu items in full and half portions (PDF), represents another strategy.
Pay Attention to Food Allergies: With more consumers suffering from allergies to foods such as nuts, eggs, and milk, accommodating special dietary needs is growing more important every day. Gluten free is the big one, according to Mintel, with a 200% increase in menu mentions since 2010.
Get Started: Interested in products that will help you meet demand for gluten free options? Check out the Nestlé Professional selection of gluten free products, including sauces, bases amd more.
Make Menus More Transparent: Technomic suggests that the healthy promise move beyond nutrition basics like fat and calories to encompass such socially responsible labels as sustainable and natural. The menu at Modmarket, for instance, promises food that’s “clean, simple, and healthy.”
Did You Know? According to the Hartmann Group, consumers live, work, and shop—as well as eat—differently according to where they reside in the “world” of health and wellness.