KANSAS CITY — Emotion is becoming a key element of menu management, according to a new report from the market research firm Technomic, Inc. Consumers want to be more informed about the food they are eating and the way in which restaurant operators are meeting this expectation is by sourcing raw materials that have a story behind them.

“Operators have a tremendous opportunity to gain share of stomach by taking credit for the socially responsible food they menu,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “Although many brands are socially responsible, they’re not communicating where these products are used or how they’re sourced. Providing more information on where food was grown can help create the sense of healthy and sustainable.”

This trend is also an opportunity for any food and beverage company serving the food service category.

Technomic found that 58% of the consumers surveyed rated “socially responsible” as an important factor when deciding what restaurant they will visit, followed by; serves meat and poultry raised without hormones or steroids (58%), serves free-range poultry and/or grass-fed beef (45%) and serves natural and organic menu items (41%).

Specifically, Technomic’s Menumonitor service, which tracks changes to more than 9,000 restaurant menus in the United States and abroad, found that the incidence of the term “natural” on menus posted yearly growth of 7%, with a 20% increase on children’s menus. The A&W chain, for example, sources “100% all natural Wisconsin white cheddar” for its cheese curds. The Corner Bakery chain offers a number of natural chicken menu options.

The number of restaurants offering menu items described as “sustainable” has grown 34% since 2011, according to Technomic. On top of that, large chains such as McDonald’s have committed to buying sustainably sourced beef by 2016.

The use of the term organic in menu descriptions has grown 4% since 2011, and nearly 18% of the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains offer an organic menu item.

It is clear many food service customers are not only demanding food that tastes good, but they also are demanding food they can feel good about eating. Many food and beverage companies have committed to sourcing raw materials in a socially responsible way and it is clear there is an opportunity to gain greater marketplace traction by promoting these efforts. Greater success requires telling a story that not only resonates with food service operators, but restaurant patrons as well.