Healthy menu items are trending up in response to the pandemic

After an initial push for comfort foods, consumers are now looking to promote wellness.
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Hunkering down at home over the past two months, consumers gravitated toward comfort foods. A look at the online kitchen quarantine recipe groups says it all: macaroni and cheese, chili, home-baked breads and soups reigned supreme. Takeout and delivery orders from restaurants revealed a similar comfort food trend.

But now that states are relaxing some of the stay-at-home regulations and warmer weather is here, consumers may be ready to go in a healthier direction—at least some of the time. Chipotle Mexican Grill certainly thinks so. Late in April, the chain introduced five new Lifestyle Bowls for those who want to “get back on track with their health and fitness goals.” The items focus on whole grains, fresh vegetables and lean proteins and were developed in partnership with fitness trainers, nutritionists and athletes.

In its latest earnings report, Noodles & Co. CEO Dave Boennighausen said that although consumers were interested in comfort foods at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, there’s been a swing toward better-for-you options, such as the chain’s zucchini noodles and cauliflower-infused noodles.

Technomic data also shows a slight uptick toward healthier menu offerings. In the company’s most recent weekly Foodservice Impact Monitor, 32% of foodservice operators are promoting healthy foods, up from 30% the week before and 21% in the beginning of April. While comfort foods and family meals are still leading on menus, better-for-you items are inching up.

On the retail side, demand for wellness products seems to be on the rise, too. During a virtual food industry roundtable held at the beginning of May, Jordan Gaspar, managing partner of AF Ventures, a firm that invests in consumer products, said immunity-driven and functional foods are on the rise.

The COVID-19 crisis prompted her company to look at data on a weekly basis for the first time, instead of every 12 weeks. “What we found is a surge in health-focused products and those that relieve stress and promote wellness,” she said. This is a response to the pandemic, Gaspar believes, and it looks like the trend will continue in the near future. 


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