6 Healthy Menu Trends for the New Year

By 
Aimee Harvey, Managing Editor, Technomic

fresh c-store food

CHICAGO -- Health and nutrition continue to be important considerations for convenience-store foodservice consumers. According to Technomic's new Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report, about half of foodservice consumers (49%) say the availability of better-for-you choices is important at retail locations—up from 44% who said the same in 2015.

As consumers expect to find more healthful fare available in the c-store segment, it's vital for retailers to keep menu innovation in mind in order to meet this ever-growing demand. It becomes even more crucial to be thoughtful about healthy menu trends as retailers consider their core Gen Z and millennial customer bases: 44% of 18- to 34-year-olds now say that they think about health and nutrition when they purchase prepared foods from retail locations.

Eating a healthier diet is one of the top resolutions consumers make every January, and restaurant operators are wasting little time helping them achieve results. As soon as the last drop of bubbly was sipped, restaurants began announcing new menu items that boast some sort of health halo. Although not all these foods and drinks are known for their health benefits—and some are technically not new to the menu—restaurant chains are marketing and packaging them as better-for-you options to jump-start a healthy new year.

Read on to get inspired by how restaurant chains across segments are addressing the demand for health on the menu, courtesy of our colleagues at Restaurant Business ...

1. Plants making a push

Beyond Burger

TGI Fridays, a popular destination for calorie-laden endless appetizers, is going the healthier route with its Better For You menu launched on Jan. 2. Leading off the lineup is a plant-based burger, which is topped with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and Fridays sauce. There’s also a Super Veggies side, a vitamin-packed mix of steamed bok choy, broccoli, red bell peppers and sugar snap peas. Aside from plants, Fridays is focusing on Asian flavors with offerings of Dragon Glaze Chicken or Salmon drizzled with a spicy Korean barbecue sauce and served with mango pico de gallo. The ingredients keep a lid on fat and calories—and Fridays markets these benefits.

2. Cleanse, boost and reboot

Nektar

Nektar Juice Bar introduced two new limited-time drinks—Grapefruit Reboot Juice and Skinny Skoop—promoting them for their immunity- and metabolism-boosting properties, vitamin content and lower calories. Both are on the menu until Feb. 4. In addition, Nektar is bringing back its annual 3-Day Cleanse Sale, available through Jan. 14. The $99 package includes six detoxifying juice blends that provide 15 pounds of cold-pressed fruits and vegetables each day.

3. Lower-carb crusts

Cauliflower crust

Cauliflower substitutes for wheat flour in Pie Five Pizza’s new scratch-made pizza crust. Targeted at health-conscious guests, according to vice president of marketing Christina Coy, Pie Five is the first fast-casual pizza player to try a cauliflower crust. The lower-carb option is not only gluten-free, but it’s also rich in vitamins C and K and a good source of anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants. Like Nektar, Pie Five is also touting the item’s detox power; cauliflower evidently aids detoxification and digestion. Customers can spec their choice of toppings on the new veggie crust, available as an option until Feb. 11.

4. Bento boxes

Detox bento box

Detoxing seems to be the healthy buzzword for the new year, with Blue Ribbon Sushi jumping in with its offering—the Detox Bento Box. All five locations are serving up these healthier versions, composed of ingredients such as salmon shioyaki, a quinoa, kale and orange salad and roasted kabocha squash with steamed bok choy.

5. Premium shrimp

The wild-caught Argentinian Red Shrimp

Rubio’s Coastal Grill is menuing a premium shrimp option in two new items launched Jan. 3. The wild-caught Argentinian Red Shrimp, sourced off the coast of Argentina, are grilled and drizzled with a blend of smoked paprika, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, salt and garlic before going into the Two Taco Plate and Bowl. Rubio’s has had shrimp on the menu for a while, and its lower calorie count and rich mineral content have made it a top choice among health seekers, according to the chain.

“Grilled shrimp is one of our most popular seafood items, and we wanted to honor our guests by offering a new flavor experience with a special shrimp,” said co-founder Ralph Rubio in a news release. “Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp is bigger than regular shrimp with a flavor and texture similar to lobster.” Rubio’s is also promoting its new MyMenu page, a partnership with Healthy Dining, to make it easy for consumers to find nutrition and allergen info.

6. Appealing to calorie counters

Under 500 Calories Menu

The Under 500 Calories menu has long been a trademark of El Pollo Loco. For the new year, the chain is adding four new light options for dieters, complete with calorie counts. The Double Chicken Fit Plate, Shrimp Avocado Plate, Pollo Fit Burrito and Power Bowl (chicken, avocado, brown rice, sour cream and black beans) range from 380 to 470 calories per item. Along with calorie counts, El Pollo Loco is promoting the superfood qualities of avocado and spinach, the nutrient content of brown rice and other health attributes in the menu descriptions.