In business and marketing we’re always trying to hit on the latest buzzwords; what are people looking for right now? In nutrition I like to use the words “empower” and “satisfy”; when looking for good place to eat the two hottest words in the industry are “value” and “fresh”. According to report by Hartman Group the importance of freshness to consumers has not only increased the popularity of farmers markets, but has also changed the way people look at foods when dining out.
The term fresh seems to also increase a food’s integrity, making it seem safer and healthier. With people looking for healthier dining options all the time and hopping on all sorts of health bandwagons (i.e. organic, sustainable, local, green, …etc.) fresh seems to be a kind of catch all, giving it an all around health halo. It got me thinking about other ways that restaurants can position themselves to provide fresher or healthier themes to their offerings.
Restaurants like Subway, Wendy’s, and In-and-Out have begun to offer “healthier” sides and substitutions. When you go to most casual dining restaurants you have the option of ordering your entrée with “fries or a salad”. Breakfast now usually comes with the option of substituting your hash browns for “fresh” fruit, and any burger place you go to now offers you your burger patty in some sort of low-carbed, bunless styling. I was amazed the other day to go into a submarine sandwich shop and have them offer me my sub “scooped” (they scoop the center of the bread out of the roll to reduce carb and calorie content). Oh, and my favorite – at Hooters you can order your wings “skinny” or not battered.
Different cuisines also seem to impart health halos. Japanese is considered a healthier cuisine, as well as Tex-Mex, while Chinese and Mexican themed eateries can sometimes carry junk food connotations. All of these cuisines have healthy and unhealthy signature items. What sets them apart? Freshness. Think about it; Japanese has sushi which has to be fresh as opposed to the typical wok-fried dishes of Chinese cuisine, and Tex-Mex is known for its use of fresh ingredients as opposed to the lard-laden offerings of traditional Mexican.
Another health halo that I am a huge fan of is the “healthy menu”. You know, you go to some sort of quick serve or casual dining restaurant and there it is at the bottom of the menu: “On the Lighter Side” or “Smarter Choices”, or “Healthy Bites”. The key is that there are a handful of items that are healthier than the rest of the menu that can for whatever reason attract the health hunters while keeping the main menu classic and focused on the restaurant’s traditions and focus.
Although freshness and healthy eating are still becoming more prominent players in the restaurant industry and cuisine in general, I wouldn’t call it a trend. I think these are themes that we will be dealing with for a long time, giving chefs and food marketing experts lots of time and opportunity to continue with this sort of creativity.
What else have you seen or done to make menus healthier?