What consumers now see as healthy

healthy foods

Menuing healthy options is no longer a “one-size-fits-all approach,” notes the new Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report from researcher Technomic. Forty percent of consumers say their idea of healthy eating has changed over the last two years, with that definition ranging from foods rich in nutrients to those that simply make diners feel better by reducing stress or increasing energy. And 34% of those surveyed say they are ordering healthy items at foodservice more often than they did two years ago.

To capitalize on this change, operators should develop menus that align with consumers’ evolving eating habits and current health perceptions. Read on to find out what else the Technomic report reveals.

Photographs: Shutterstock

1. Vegetables rule


A full serving of vegetables is more likely to signal health than any other claim measured, with 84% of consumers agreeing that vegetables are a key component of a healthy diet. Although survey respondents say they avoid add-ons in an effort to eat healthier, a high proportion would welcome vegetable sides.

2. Plant-based gains popularity

plant based food

Although a small percentage of the population identifies as vegan or vegetarian, plant-based foods and beverages are perceived as healthy by 67% of consumers. And 58% of those surveyed said that plant-based items can drive their purchases.

3. Feel-good foods have fans

ginsing chicken soup

Thirty percent of younger consumers are dissatisfied with stress’ effect on their health, and the 18-34 age group is more likely than their older counterparts to purchase food items with stress-relieving ingredients, such as ginseng, cannabis and CBD oil. Across all generations, a top health driver for ordering a dish is how it makes a customer feel after eating it, according to Technomic. Consumers say they want to feel energized—not tired or bloated.

4. Promote functional health

lotus root bowl

Along the same lines, natural remedies are finding favor with consumers. Lotus root, for example, is trending as an ingredient that improves digestion, boosts the immune system and controls moods. Others on the rise are skyr, a probiotic-rich dairy food that aids digestion; mung beans, which are said to help control stress and repair muscles; and acerola, a fruit high in antioxidants believed to improve blood circulation and prevent heart disease. In fact, 71% of consumers believe that antioxidants make a food healthier.

5. Track diet trends

paleo diet

Three of the most popular diets these days are paleo, ketogenic and Whole30. Although diets come and go, offering some menu items that fit these eating plans can be a draw for customers. For example, Protein Bar & Kitchen, a Chicago-based chain, recently debuted the Bowl30 and Paleo Salad, each of which conforms to guidelines for those specific diets.

6. Calories still count


Now that calorie information is required on chain menus, consumers seem to be paying attention. Respondents in the Technomic survey say that, on average, 565 calories per entree is too high to be considered healthy. Operators who introduce items with an eye toward health may want to stay below this limit or offer smaller portions to keep a lid on calories.

7. A more holistic approach

berry parfait

Consumers are aiming for more overall balance in their food choices—a diet that’s not too indulgent nor too restrictive. When developing healthier menu items, don’t completely eliminate foods that are considered treats. And use the menu to educate guests about the qualities or ingredients that make a food healthy, such as “high in antioxidants” or “stress-relieving.” Menu transparency helps sell health.

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