CHICAGO -- In the '90s, health consciousness took the form of fat-free snacks and jazzercise. Today, it feels like nearly everyone is a card-carrying health nut armed with their own philosophy on eating well. Buzzwords that were once fringe have now become normalized, and major food companies and operators are catering to specialized diets and health trends, according to Technomic’s Healthy Eating Category Menu Insights Report.
Pivoting to these evolving needs of health-conscious consumers could mean the difference between winning and losing the war for retail foodservice.
Check out three insights that will help retailers ace better-for-you trends ...
The new normal
Three short years ago, Arby’s won over Americans with its open letter poking fun at vegetarians, offering them a help line to avoid indulging in the Atlanta-based quick-service chain’s meat-centric menu. In 2018, vegetarian is now in the mature phase of Technomic’s adoption cycle, popping up on 26% mainstream operators' menus, the report said. However, consumers and operators are not just embracing plant-based dining. Showing up at 19% mainstream operators' menus, vegan is now considered mainstream.
The appetite for vegan fare is manifesting in the channel with new concepts such as celebrity chef Matthew Kenney’s vegan c-store New Deli in Venice Beach, Calif.
Retailers are also investing in plant-based alternatives to c-store favorites. QuikTrip, Tulsa, Okla., launched a bean corn poblano burrito vegan roller grill item in February, and RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., Atlanta, is developing an almond-milk ice cream.
One of the fastest-changing health claims for quick-service restaurants is “natural.” The label has grown 18% since 2016, according to the report. On the fast-casual side, restaurants such as Panera, St. Louis, and Chipotle, Newport Beach, Calif., have repositioned their entire brands around the idea of natural. York, Pa.-based Rutter’s calls out its natural, local and healthy items on labels and social media. On a Facebook post targeted to Halloween partygoers, the chain positioned itself as a destination to nurse a hangover with customizable, healthy breakfast sandwiches.
Sugar-free claims are on the rise among quick-service foodservice operators. About 18% of mainstream QSR operators mention no-sugar items, according to the report. This trend might have more to do with foodservice beverages than food, as consumers spring for healthier alternatives to soda. At this year’s NACS Show in Las Vegas, new water formats and health-forward drinks took the show floor by storm.
Portland, Ore.-based Green Zebra Grocery launched its Kombucha Slushie on the city’s first Kombucha Day celebration. The drink is dispensed out of frozen beverage machines and comes in on-trend flavors such as pineapple ginger and marionberry mint. “We think of our stores as a human recharging station as opposed to the traditional convenience store, which tears down your health,” founder Lisa Sedlar told The Associated Press.