Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants look forward to a happy, healthy new year

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants look forward to a happy, healthy new year https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/healthymeal388-388x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

2015’s healthy eating trend was no flash in the pan. As 2016 kicks off, more restaurants than ever before are making a resolution to offer healthier menu choices.

Foods free of additives, antibiotics or other artificial components turned up as a top trend in more than one 2015 survey.

“Fresh,” according to Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for The NPD Group, a market research firm, is becoming the “mantra” for healthier food choices that are poised to become even more popular in 2016.

“It’s been evolving, and the more we’ve talked about it, it’s just increased awareness,” Riggs told QSR. “The trend is toward food and beverages that are considered wholesome and real.”

The “real food” trend extends beyond avoiding certain ingredients. “Real food” also means adding authentic offerings, including ethnic, regional, and local foods. Additionally, “real” means making more foods in-house, improving transparency and bringing more control over flavor in the process.

Fast-casual restaurants, ranking as the No. 2 trend on the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” culinary forecast for 2016, are in the forefront of the healthy eating and real foods movement.

“These restaurants are looking at the menu and ingredients as a chef would, rather than a research and development [professional],” Annika Stensson, director of research communications at the National Restaurant Association, told QSR. “It’s a slightly different way of looking at the menu and the ingredients that go into it.”

Panera Bread, for one, has resolved to cut all artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors and flavors from its menu by the end of 2016.

“Is there anything in there that may be completely safe to eat and okay to use by the FDA standpoint, but would it be in my home pantry?” Dan Kish, Panera’s head chef, told Business Insider, when describing his thought process on rewriting recipes. “I don’t keep a little container of sodium phosphate lying around in my kitchen.”

The National Restaurant Association, too, has resolved to make 2016 a healthy year.

“I will be “healthifying” at the National Restaurant Association by instituting walking meetings so that we are walking around outside rather than always sitting during one on one meetings,” Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, told Restaurant Nutrition. “We are also thrilled to be celebrating the fifth birthday of the Kids LiveWell program in 2016. This fifth year marks a tremendous effort on behalf of participating restaurants – coast to coast – to contribute to the health and well-being of our nation’s children. We are proud that the Kids LiveWell program is helping families nourish their children while enjoying the dining out experience that our industry is passionate about.”

Every indication is these trends will extend far beyond 2016. With a Millennial generation that is known for its interest in quality and authenticity, the sky appears to be the limit for healthy eating and real food.