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Americans increasingly seek healthy dining options

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

More Americans are factoring health into the equation when ordering restaurant meals, according to new research from NPD Group. In a new report dubbed “A Look into the Future of Foodservice,” NPD found that consumers are ordering less soda and fewer hot dogs and fries, and increasing purchases of food perceived to be healthier, including yogurt, fruit and grilled-chicken sandwiches.

NPD restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs says it’s no surprise that lighter fare is in greater demand among consumers 50 and older, who are beginning to deal with health and aging issues, as well as moms striving to serve their children a balanced diet, but a growing demand for healthier fare by adults age 18 to 34 is a more unusual trend that tells the industry that better-for-you fare likely won’t be a fad this time around.

Unlike previous attempts at offering healthier dishes, which often fell flat and faded away quickly, restaurants have grown more sophisticated and savvy along with their foodie customers. International flavors and seasonings make it easier for eateries to create tasty lighter fare that appeals to more seasoned palates.

“It’s not like the days of old, when restaurants put something healthy on the menus and it didn’t taste good and they charged customers more,” she says. “We also have to be very careful how we price it.” Consumers say they don’t balk at paying a slightly higher price for fresher, lighter fare, she says, especially if the dishes are made with more expensive ingredients, but only when they perceive a real value and don’t feel like restaurants are just charging more because they can.

What do consumers mean by healthy? Riggs’ team is doing follow-up research on this question, but responses from consumers in earlier surveys indicate that fresh ingredients that taste good are likely to top the list, especially when they’re put together in front of the customer.

“That’s part of the reason why Subway has such a halo,” she says. “You can see it being made, they put on the fresh lettuce and tomato and, whether or not the meat and other things being put on are healthful, if we see it being made fresh, we believe it’s healthier.”

The healthy/light sandwich category is likely to see the most growth in demand and sales in the next decade, Riggs says, followed closely by breakfast; not surprisingly, both categories are slated to see rapid growth in general during the next 10 years, despite slower growth in overall restaurant traffic.

Restaurant traffic is slated to grow only about 8%, outpaced by projected population growth of 10%, as baby boomers age and both dine out less often and eat lighter — and less expensive — meals. Proprietors have no control over that fact, but they do have a chance to make changes designed to cater to changing tastes.

Are your guests eschewing sugary soda and fried foods for fresher dishes? How are you tweaking your menus to meet the demand?