Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Low-carb diets on the rise, restaurants respond

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Low-carb diets on the rise, restaurants respond https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Low-Carb-zone-900x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

More than ever, restaurants are scrambling to cater to health-conscious customers. Menus with gluten-free and other non-allergenic food are becoming increasingly common. Although we hear less about them, low-carbohydrate diets are also having an impact on the foodservice industry.

According to a survey by Iobotta, an online marketing and retail loyalty company, almost one third of its users are under one form of dietary restriction or another. Of these dieters, 18 percent were cutting down on carbs. Sixteen percent of the respondents were on high-protein diets, 9 percent were pursuing gluten-free eating while 4 percent were on the heavily protein-oriented Paleo diet. Although these groups of dieters overlap, many Americans, possibly one out of five, are at least attempting to cut back on things like bread and pasta.

Given this rise in low-carb eating, it is not surprising that many Italian chains are underperforming. Bravo Cucina Italiana’s same-store sales fell 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter. Brio Tuscan Grille also declined by 4.2-percent decline during the same period. Macaroni Grill, facing a 2.8-percent decline in same-store sales, in late 2014, was sold for $8 million.

Other Italian chains, however, a finding ways to compete. In the face of a weak 1.3 percent rise in same-store sales, during its fourth quarter – the weakest performance among publicly-traded fast-casual chains, Noodles & Company is now introducing noodle-free options.

“Our new BUFF Bowls are low carb and high protein versions of popular Noodles & Company dishes, and each bowl is made fresh to order in our kitchens like all menu items every day,” Kevin Reddy, CEO of Noodles & Company commented in a prepared statement. “At Noodles & Company, we pride ourselves on offering a wide variety of dishes from healthy to indulgent. We have always encouraged creativity and customization for our guests looking to enjoy our world of flavors, and our new BUFF Bowls featuring only 14-39 grams of carbs and packing in 17-31 grams of protein, take that extra step to make it easier for our guests looking for a lighter offering without skimping on satisfying flavor.”

The low-carb trend is also appearing in other segments of the restaurant industry.

Restaurants catering specifically to low-carb, Paleo dieters are popping up in numerous U.S. locations including Berkeley, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Boulder, Colo. And with the opening of London’s first Paleo restaurant, the trend has even crossed over the Atlantic.

Good, old-fashioned American quick service chains are also finding ways to accommodate the growing interest in low-carb eating.

CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc., the parent company of quick service giants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is placing increased emphasis on low-carb menu offerings. CKE has introduced “Other Side” websites featuring a not-so-secret menu of lower carb, lower calorie or lower fat options that can be found at both of its chains.

“All the menu items on the ‘Other Side’ have been around for a while, such as our award-winning line of Charbroiled Turkey Burgers which were an industry first,” Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of CKE, told Business Wire. “We’re just presenting them in a new and consolidated way to generate more awareness about our healthier options. The selections have always been available for view on our brand menu sites under the ‘Better for You’ menu tab.”

Clearly, cutting down on on carbs is mainstream, not the fad it thought to be 10 years ago. And this trend shows no signs of abating.

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