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Making meal concepts interactive

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Perhaps more than ever before, consumers want meals prepared to their personalized preferences and needs, from portion size to ingredient selection.  Build-your-own entrees and action stations allow diners to make choices that fit their diet and taste buds while keeping them engaged by encouraging new flavor pairings.

In addition, seeing selected ingredients transformed into a finished dish before their eyes provides a welcomed transparency. In its 2019Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, Technomic found that 61% of consumers want restaurants to be more transparent about all the ingredients in the dish.

Interactive meal concepts also allow guests to make choices based on a desire for functional nutrition, a growing consumer trend. In fact, Technomic’s Healthy Eating report found that 33% of consumers strongly agree that they’re eating more foods because of their specific nutritional benefits than they did 2 years ago, and top benefits that consumers look for are protein (41%), vitamin C (40%) and fiber (40%).

Power bowls are trending on both commercial and non-commercial menus because they offer an opportunity to capitalize on healthier dining and customization. According to Technomic’s Ignite Menu Data, menu mentions of power bowls grew 73.3% from 2017 to 2018, with top ingredients including quinoa, kale, avocado, tomatoes and eggs—although there’s plenty of room for innovation.

Taking the cue from consumers’ desire to incorporate protein, vitamin C and fiber into their food, a Vietnamese noodle salad can be topped with grilled lemongrass pork and pickled apples for a tart flavor with global flare. As a side dish or light lunch, avocado can be mixed with mango, cilantro, feta cheese and pineapple citrus vinaigrette for a fresh, summery taste.

Seafood offers a big opportunity, too, as 42% of monthly seafood consumers strongly agree that they would be likely to order build-your-own seafood bowls if they were available, according to Technomic’s 2019Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. Consider offering guests a Spicy Ponzu Poke with Mango Bowl that combines rice, ahi tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, avocado, and jalapeno pepper in a bowl.

Customization and nutritional eating doesn’t just apply to the main course, either. According to Technomic’s 2018Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, 34% of consumers say they are snacking on healthier foods compare to 2016 and 25% plan to snack more healthfully in the next year. The same report found that 37% of consumers want snacks that promise to be high in antioxidants, 35% want those that aid in digestion, and 28% would like their snacks to contain probiotics.

Couple those attributes with the fact that 20% of millennials consumers are eating more snacks that have a sweet flavor profile and operators have the perfect reason to offer parfait and smoothie stations. For example, a Strawberry Banana Smoothie Bowl can be made with sliced fruit, almond milk, sliced almonds, and cacao nibs.

With interactive meal concepts, particularly those that incorporate fruit, foodservice operators can offer endless options of tasty combinations that keep diners’ interest while offering desired healthy attributes of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

This post is sponsored by Dole Packaged Foods

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