Hard to believe, but menu labeling is actually set to take effect May 7, 2018…a full eight years after the Affordable Care Act that called for it was passed in 2010. Aside from making multi-unit operators scramble to comply, menu labeling has undeniably brought more consumer attention to what’s on the menu and how healthy it is (or not). In this issue, we’ll take a look at where consumers are today when it comes to healthy dining, and what restaurant operators can do to reach them.
First, what do they mean by “healthy?” Well, the overall trend from the past few years still holds true: consumers understand healthy to mean “less processed, and more natural.” That’s still pretty vague, but things like avoiding antibiotics and added hormones in meat, and seeking out cage-free eggs, more vegetables, local- or farm-raised and sustainable foods, and even GMO-free foods, are all on the right track. So it’s not about specific diets or low-fat or low-calorie fare, but dishes with ingredients and simple cues to “healthier” and “cleaner” fare.
With that in mind, according to a recent study by Mintel, about half (48%) of consumers say they prepare food at home when they want to eat healthy, and 39% say they “try to eat healthy, but find it too difficult when dining out.” Not great news for restaurants, but you might have expected worse. A majority of consumers are still open to using restaurants to help them eat healthy.
A couple of stats also caught our attention — over 80% of consumers believe “healthy food can taste delicious,” a strong proof point that “healthy food” has lost its reputation for being unappealing. Looking at younger consumers (18-34) in particular, a full 60% say they “enjoy visiting restaurants that specialize in healthy dining.” See below for a few examples of what that looks like…
Where We’re Seeing It
True Food Kitchen
True Food Kitchen describes itself as “a health-driven, seasonal restaurant merging nutrient-rich ingredients with a flavor-forward menu that rotates regularly to let guests experience great-tasting ingredients at the peak of their freshness.
Menu Highlight: Lasagna Bolognese with house-made chicken sausage, mushroom, spinach, lemon ricotta, herbs.
Even a classically indulgent menu item like lasagna gets a healthy makeover, with vegetables and herbs front and center, and a lighter protein in play, house made at that.
In the limited-service sector, LYFE Kitchen provides a similar health-forward focus. The website describes the restaurant mission by stating, “We promote a dynamic synergy between greens, grains, proteins and seasonal vegetables to create balanced meals.
Our unique “health casual” restaurant experience bridges the gap between the fine dining and fast casual experiences.”
Menu highlight: Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Penne. Whole Grain Pasta, Green onions, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese and cashew cream sauce.
This dish is loaded with healthy cues, from the veggies to the whole grain pasta. It’s also built to be easily vegan — that cashew cream sauce adds the indulgent creaminess without dairy.
Barilla insight: Pastas are an approachable, food-cost friendly platform for featuring these healthy-cue and sustainable foods that are often more costly, like antibiotic-free meats or local organic produce.
Here are some of our favorite healthy pasta dishes: