Online Exclusive: Resources Abound to Solve Wellness Challenge

Manufacturers and associations offer help for operators looking for wellness solutions.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

Each segment of the non-commercial foodservice industry faces its own set of challenges when it comes to helping customers live a healthier lifestyle. From the food side, at least, there is a wealth of expertise out there from manufacturers, as well as from associations dedicated to guiding people in various aspects of wellness. Here are three examples that have recently crossed our desk:

1. Unilever Food Solutions: This summer, Unilever created the Seductive Nutrition Challenge to encourage restaurants and non-commercial operations to do their part to help diners eat more healthfully. Operators were asked to pledge to reduce at least one popular menu item by 100 calories, and then enhance the menu description of the dish to make it more appealing to guests. As part of the challenge, which ends Aug. 31, every operator who took the pledge was entered for a chance to receive an all-expenses paid trip to attend Unilever’s exclusive Seductive Nutrition event at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

“As part of our global Sustainable Living Plan, we are committed to making a positive impact on the health and well-being of restaurant guests,” said Simon Marshall, president of Unilever Food Solutions North America. “We also recognize that in order for our customers to achieve success and deliver healthier choices for their guests, we must make the ‘Seductive Nutrition’ approach fit seamlessly into their operations.”

Although the competition ends this month, the resources Unilever has offered to operators are ongoing. They include the Seductive Nutrition tool, a calorie calculator and some reduction techniques, as well as tips to enhance menu item descriptions.

The Seductive Nutrition tool illustrates Unilever’s new approach to menu development with a before-and-after look at 10 top menu items updated with small changes to the nutrition profile and enhanced menu descriptions.

The interactive calorie calculator demonstrates how exchanging one or two ingredients for healthier food selections, or adjusting portion sizes, can reduce total calories in one of your top dishes.

Calorie reduction techniques from Lisa Carlson, R.D, nutrition manager at Unilever, offer suggestions for small changes to help restaurant guests benefit from slightly fewer calories while enjoying their favorite meals.

Menu description tips developed by Chef Steve Jilleba, CMC, corporate executive chef at Unilever, show how to make menu items sound as appealing as they taste by enhancing ingredient descriptions, noting place of origin and adding a bit of romance language.

Seductive Nutrition has its roots in a World Menu Report commissioned by Unilever earlier this year. According to Unilever, the report revealed that while more than 65% of consumers surveyed said they would like a “slightly” healthier dish when eating out, they are not demanding an overhaul of menus. Therefore, instead of introducing new, “healthy” creations to menus, operators should focus on making small changes to their top-selling dishes to satisfy customers.

“In recent years, chefs and restaurant operators have responded to restaurant guests’ requests for healthier dishes at restaurants and eateries by including these options on their menus,” said Jilleba. “But to encourage diners to try these dishes, we also have to design our menus so that the healthier items sound as delicious as they are so they become attractive options for restaurant guests to choose.”

“Seductive Nutrition” and the report’s focus on health and nutrition highlight one of the fundamental initiatives that Unilever is addressing through its enhanced consultation services. Through its “Your Menu” service area, Unilever provides tools to chefs and operators to help create nutritious, healthy and profitable menus.

2. Fresh Healthy Vending: Fresh Healthy Vending, a San Diego-based company, has created the Fresh Healthy Vending Café, a machine that features a variety of healthful snacks and beverages, as well as nine selections of fresh-brewed coffee drinks using organic coffee beans.

The Fresh Healthy Vending Cafe machines are currently being placed in offices, colleges, call centers and other locations throughout the country.

“Offering employees options such as the Fresh Healthy Vending Cafe have become a must for companies with 100 or more employees," said Dan Negroni, CEO of Fresh Healthy Vending. "We are in the process of launching a nationwide campaign to educate companies across the U.S. on why healthy eating in the workplace can play a powerful role in helping employees make healthier eating choices, resulting in a positive impact on costly lifestyle-related diseases.”

But Negroni says there is also a financial benefit to offering the vending café. Retail stores produce about $250 a square foot a year in sales, while a nine-square-foot vending machine can generate $5,000 to $10,000 a square foot a year, according to Negroni.

“Do these new high tech vending machines mean the end of brick and mortar retail? Not really,” he says. “They just complement what specialty retail stores offer by their ability to be almost everywhere people are everyday. We see this as just the beginning of the new self-service revolution that is taking hold in the U.S.”

3. Celiac Sprue Association: This organization is a wealth of information and insight for operators struggling with how to offer gluten-free options in their cafeterias. On its website, csaceliacs.info, the CSA has a guide to understanding celiac disease, tips for people who suffer either from the disease itself or an intolerance to gluten, and recipes that sufferers can try at home or chefs can use as a guide.

Most recently, the CSA partnered with GlutenFreeTravelSite, a website containing thousands of user-submitted gluten free dining and travel reviews, to help spread the word within the gluten free community about the many restaurants and other businesses that safely accommodate people on gluten free diets.

CSA members will be able to access other members’ reviews on a dedicated page—and the reviews will also be accessible to any visitor to GlutenFreeTravelSite via a geographic search by town, zip code, state, or country. By having CSA members’ recommendations and reviews on GlutenFreeTravelSite, their feedback will help other people with Celiac or gluten sensitivity, whether they are searching the reviews on GlutenFreeTravelSite for someplace safe to eat in their area—or in a location where they are traveling.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body is unable to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. As many as one in 133 people in the U.S. may have it. but more than 90% of these people remain undiagnosed. In addition, a study in 2011 established that an additional 7% to 8% of the population has gluten sensitivity.