dining industry
As times change, so does the typical consumer. And as much as we cringe to admit, those that are currently driving the marketplace (Millennials and Generation Z), are demanding for transparency and authenticity when it comes to the foods they eat. According to a study titled the “Top 5 Future Eating Trends Worth Watching,” conducted by foodservice consulting firm NPD Group, these generations of consumers will be the cause of consumption growth in the areas of fresh ingredients and healthier meal preparations.  “We have seen this strong trend in first identifying allergens, then GMO’s and now it has made a rapid push towards identifying clean i.e. without additives or artificial ingredients,” says Betsy Craig, Founder and CEO of MenuTrinfo. Many among the foodservice industry have pledged to eradicate artificial ingredients to appease the ever-evolving consumer. Other issues have also provoked the need to go fresh. FDA mandated menu labeling requirements are slowly but steadily approaching, and consumer food sensitivities are becoming more and more top of mind. The need for transparency when it comes to food is now not a matter of personal preference or luxury, it’s an absolute necessity in the dining industry.
“Food knowledge and transparency are top of mind for our millennial guests,” notes Noodles and Company Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Mark Mears in an Oct. 6thpress release. “More than ever, they want and expect real food that they can feel great about,” says Mears. Recently, celebrated their 20 anniversary by kicking off their “Real Food” marketing campaign which includes the removal of all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners from its core menu excluding beverage and dessert items. Additionally, the restaurant chain has also made the commitment to utilize antibiotic-free and hormone-free meat and poultry by 2017.
Papa John’s has also gone to great lengths to clean up their menu. According to Entrepreneur, Papa John’s has invested in a $100 million effort to eliminate 14 ingredients from their menu, which includes corn syrup, preservatives and artificial colors, by the year’s end.
Clean ingredients, a transparent menu and  making a positive impact on the food ecosystem are three core values that stem from Panera Bread’s “Food as it Should Be” marketing campaign. Ron Shaich, founder and CEO of the company says in their June 2015 press release, “When you come to Panera, you can count on us to tell you what’s in your food. You can trust our commitment to clean ingredients. We want to enable our guests to focus their energies on the joys of eating: naturally delicious ingredients, served with transparency and respect, and shared with friends and family. That is food as it should be.” Other major restaurant chains such as Subway, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Chipotle, are also making the commitment to eliminate artificial additives or preservatives.
While larger chains have taken great measures to provide transparent menu items, local and regional restaurants are also following suit including MenuTrinfo’s client Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli, a fast casual restaurant with 18 restaurant locations across seven states. Working with several chefs and conducting a full nutritional analysis, the restaurant chain crafted a new menu consisting of bold flavors and fresh ingredients that will roll out by the end of the year. For Smiling Moose, transparency has always been top of mind.
“Fresh ingredients and bold flavors have always been a priority for us,” said Sue Daggett, President of Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli. “Our new menu now offers guests a wider variety of gluten-free and vegetarian options and our fresh baked baguettes used for our signature hot sandwiches have always been free of artificial preservatives. While our focus continues to be on hearty and adventurous offerings, our new menu now offers nearly 20 options that are under 600 calories – all a part of our ongoing effort to offer guests a wide variety of options.”
Do you think that your brand is ready to make similar commitments to transparency and fresh ingredients? You can start by collecting all of your nutritional information. If your nutritional information is more than two years old, or if you’ve changed ingredients or suppliers, make sure your nutritional information is verified for accuracy.  Next, compile a list of ingredients that you possibly want to eliminate. Artificial colors and ingredients are often a great starting point when you are considering cleaning up your menu. From there, continue down the list and consider preservatives and additives, all of which require a larger scale reformulation. Becoming an advocate for your patron’s needs will offer a great competitive advantage in the marketplace. It is, without a doubt, an often challenging feat but that’s why we’d love to help. “It’s a tough job to do this task properly but thanks to our leading technology we can handle it and produce these free from lists for our nutritional partner clients,” says Betsy Craig.
As a full service nutrition solution we have a team of nutrition experts that can help you identify what consumers want removed and be a valuable resource in helping you develop safe, healthy menu items for your patrons. As diner behavior ebbs and flows, we are here to help steer you forward in the ever changing path of food preferences and standards.