Health matters on menus

by Monica Watrous
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Bonefish Grill hooks health-minded consumers with grilled seafood options.

 

CHICAGO — Though most consumers view dining out as an opportunity to indulge, healthy options at restaurants are of increasing importance, especially to women, according to Technomic, Inc, Chicago.

The market research firm tracked consumer perceptions of recent experiences at 128 top chains. Availability and quality of better-for-you items were considered important or very important at fast-casual and full-service concepts for at least 69% of consumers, while a slightly smaller percentage (66%) said they seek healthy options at quick-service restaurants.

“Consumers may not select healthy options on every occasion,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at Technomic. “But increasingly, operators must understand the importance of health to their customers, and many will need to refresh their menu offerings to deliver what their customers demand.”

Limited-service chains that rated the highest in providing a selection of lighter options were Jamba Juice, Jason’s Deli and McAlister’s Deli, driving favor with such items as smoothies, salads and seafood. Jamba Juice this year introduced whole food blending and juicing in its restaurants, with custom beverages that may include kale, apple, pineapple, carrots, beets, orange, chia seeds and wheat grass.

McAlister's Deli offers a variety of reduced-calorie options, including wraps and salads.

 

In the full-service segment, The Cheesecake Factory, Bonefish Grill and Bahama Breeze Island Grill achieved the highest ratings for offering healthy choices. The Cheesecake Factory offers a SkinnyLicious menu of approximately 50 items that contain 590 calories or fewer. Options include flatbreads, burgers, salads, pasta, seafood and Mexican dishes. Bonefish Grill and Bahama Breeze hook health-minded consumers with grilled seafood options.

Consumer perceptions of health for Whataburger have improved since the burger chain launched a 550-calorie menu, which includes breakfast sandwiches, burgers and salads. In the period between the third quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014, 33% of consumers rated the availability of healthy options at Whataburger as very good, up from 27% a year before. Bonefish Grill also saw an increase, from 47% to 54% in the same time span, benefitting from an overall positioning that has increasingly resonated with customers.

“Menu and marketing initiatives can nudge consumers’ brand perceptions,” Technomic said. “Even in the absence of major changes, macro trends can also affect how consumers view a brand.”
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