Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Healthy foods – a growing trend in 2015

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Healthy foods – a growing trend in 2015 https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/healthymeal388-388x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

The handwriting is all over the wall. Eating healthy is a major concern for consumers, and restaurateurs are quickly moving in to meet this demand.

“There is money to be made in the healthy-natural sector,” said Brandon Brown, restaurant reporter for the Phoenix Business Journal. “Terry McDaniel, CEO of Inventure Foods Inc. told me that he took his company in that direction for a number of reasons, one being that there are higher margins in healthy-natural foods because consumers are willing to pay more for food that is labeled natural, local, gluten-free, GMO-free, vegan, etc. Also meat prices, especially beef prices, are going up. Beef prices hit record highs in 2014 and are expected to continue in 2015. So with meat prices high and consumers willing to pay more for vegetarian options, why wouldn’t there be a surge of these types of restaurants?”

A sign of the times – and one with big potential to put even more emphasis on healthy eating – is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new menu labeling rules, mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. These rules require restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies have until November to comply.

The idea behind the rules is that customers may avoid bacon double cheeseburgers if they know they are loaded hundreds of calories. In response, the FDA hopes restaurants may make healthier foods with lower calorie counts. When the rules are fully implemented, menus and menu boards will inform diners that 2,000-calorie diets are the basis for daily nutrition although there may be variance in individual calorie needs. Additionally, nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.

“It’s not a magic wand, but it will help people make better choices about their diets,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods told the Associated Press.

The measure has broad public support.

According to a December 2014 Associated Press-GfK poll, most Americans favor labeling calories on menus in fast food and sit-down restaurants.

When judging if a food item is a healthy choice, 55 percent of Americans say the number of calories it contains is very or extremely important to them. This is also true in regard to sodium levels.

If you’re looking for the future, look no further than Australia, where McDonald’s is moving into hitherto unknown culinary territory.

The company recently opened a Sydney restaurant called The Corner by McCafe, where tofu, vegetables, Moroccan roast, chicken breast, chipotle pulled pork, brown rice, pumpkins, lentil and eggplant salads and sandwiches have replaced traditional McDonald’s offerings like Big Macs and fries.

McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa McComb told USA Today that The Corner is a “learning lab where we are testing completely new and different food and beverages never before seen in our restaurants.”

While there are currently no plans to replicate such a restaurant in the United States, this experimental venture clearly shows McDonald’s aiming to appeal to a more health-conscious customer base, including many members of the Millennial generation.

In the meantime, the National Restaurant Association is working hard to prepare its members for the new FDA menu labeling rules by partnering with Healthy Dining, a California-based company at the forefront of restaurant nutrition for more than 20 years.

“Like never before, nutrition is on the hearts, minds, and appetites of the consumer, and it is our passion to partner with restaurants and help them to prosper in this nutrition-focused era,” Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, president of Healthy Dining, told QSR.

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