With menu labeling now officially in place with a final FDA rule – and compliance required by May 6, 2017 — the healthy dining landscape has evolved considerably since the Affordable Care Act was first passed in 2010. Restaurant operators and consumers are in a different place economically, with unemployment down around 5% and restaurant sales and outlook vastly improved from 6 years ago. Consumers are using foodservice more often, and looking to a different definition of “healthy” on the menu.
First, consumers don’t have a lot of trust in restaurants to provide healthier fare, with 36% saying they are preparing healthier food at home more often than last year. And there’s always the tension between dining out for pleasure and indulgence vs. trying to eat healthier, with 86% saying they view dining out as a treat vs. 47% who say healthiness is the most important factor.
So what do they want? Well, you might sum up consumer sentiment around “healthy” as “less processed, and more natural.” That’s still pretty vague, but this means avoiding things like antibiotics and added hormones in meat, and seeking out cage-free eggs, farm-raised and sustainable foods, and even GMO-free foods on the menu. Consumers are telling restaurants they are looking for better choices around the edges – healthier sides, dishes that feature vegetables more prominently, and smaller portion sizes. So it’s not about specific diets or low-fat or low-calorie fare, but dishes with ingredients and simple cues to “healthier” fare. The good news for restaurants is that many of these cues are also worth paying more for, from antibiotic-free to organic, non-GMO to whole grain. And some of what consumers are looking for is just transparency – for restaurants to be open about what’s in the food to earn their trust.
Where We’re Seeing It
Panera’s “Food As It Should Be” credo made headlines last year, when they unveiled their “No No” list of banned ingredients, with a goal of eliminating them from the supply chain by the end of 2016. It’s about a clean label – meaning no artificial additives, colors or preservatives. Coupled with a focus on animal welfare, it’s winning with consumers as Panera’s continued growth and success indicates.
Menu Highlight: Ricotta Sacchettini Pasta with Chicken Broth Bowl. Purse-shaped sacchettini pasta filled with a six-cheese blend, chicken raised without antibiotics, fresh broccoli, spinach, tomato sofrito and nut-free basil pesto with fresh lemon and parmesan in a hen broth. (470 calories)
Southern California upstart Lemonade is a darling of trend watchers, with a fast-casual, cafeteria-style layout and a menu that’s 90% vegetarian and 20% vegan. The ever-changing seasonal menu and clear focus on convenient, clean, healthy cuisine is making a believer out of guests and investors alike. They’re growing at a 40% clip.
Menu highlight: Orecchiette Pasta with Cherry + Sundried Tomatoes, Perline Mozzarella + Chimichurri Vinaigrette. Not your standard macaroni salad, this Italian-style Orecchiette pasta shows off its “little ears” dressed with tangy parsley Chimichurri vinaigrette, and tossed with creamy mozzarella, chunky tomatoes and fresh basil.
Barilla insight: You may not know it, but Barilla pastas are now non-GMO certified. They’ve always been non-GMO, but now we can carry the symbol on our pack. Pastas are a terrific food-cost friendly platform for featuring healthy-cue and sustainable foods that are often more expensive, like antibiotic-free meats or local organic produce.
Here are some of our favorite healthy pasta dishes:
- Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes
- Spaghetti with Lemon Verbena Grilled Chicken
- Barilla Stealth Health Mac and Cheese
- Smoked Salmon and Avocado Pasta Salad