Consumers, increasingly, want to know the truth behind the food they eat. It isn’t always a pretty story: A new study published in The BMJ traced the longterm effects of fried foods and, while it’s no shock to hear that these foods aren’t healthy, the study found some alarming connections between fried foods and mortality. Upon studying 20 years’ worth of data about U.S. women aged 50 to 79, the study’s authors found that people who reported eating at least one serving of fried food daily had an 8 percent chance of dying early and an 8 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease specifically. So what is a foodservice operation to do? Taco Bell’s first-ever in-house dietician, Missy Schaaphok, has some ideas — and is proof that quick-service brands can continue to serve their core customers while improving their efforts to tell a healthier story. A Skift Table report indicates Schaaphok has been working to transform the brand’s image from a place where people cave to indulgences in fried food to one where vegetarians, flexitarians, or people looking for lower-fat, lower-calorie or other healthier options can find something they like. Her focus is in making “stealth health” upgrades — evaluating the nutritional content of menu items, improving on what exists and introducing new menu items. She has already eliminated artificial colors and flavors from the menu, as well as high-fructose corn syrup — and is working to reduce sodium content too. She is now working on the brand’s first dedicated vegetarian menu, which is set to launch later this year.
How well does your menu use vegetables as not just vegetables, but as ingredients that blend into the background — and in the process, make for a healthier dish? Cauliflower, for one, has surged in popularity in recent years, with sales of its products climbing 71 percent last year according to Nielsen data. (Having taken hold as a pizza crust ingredient and rice substitute, it is now moving into the snack category: Fast Company reports that a number of brands are releasing cauliflower-based snacks such as pickled cauliflower and cauliflower-powder based pretzels, crackers and chips.) But since cauliflower is expensive and difficult to mass-produce, there is room for other vegetables to take hold as undercover ingredients. This New Year, as people look to reset their health, where can you incorporate nutrient-dense vegetables in ways that allow them to disappear into the background?
Once holiday feasting is over, New Year’s health resolutions kick in. Do you know how to deliver the kinds of options your guests are looking for? The tactics that work for your restaurant may differ from those that succeed at the restaurant down the street. When you contemplate menu changes, focus less on fad diets than on accommodating lifestyle changes like gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb or organic diets. Then, consider how your target market thinks. Next Restaurants reports that according to a Numerator survey, the average person who follows Weight Watchers is 65 or older, so building menu options around that plan may make sense if you serve that demographic. Forging partnerships with social media influencers and organizations committed to healthy lifestyles can help too. At a minimum, consider offering nutrition information to show you’re committed to helping guests make their own healthy decisions.