Healthy Only at Home?
When asked directly, many American diners profess the desire to eat a healthier diet, but they find it hard to follow through with actions. In a recent survey, Mintel Menu Insights found that only one in five (20%) diners ranked the healthiness of the foods they ordered an important factor when they ordered dinner. When describing what they look for on a dinner menu, most important to consumers was taste (77%) and hunger satisfaction (44%). While many restaurants have made a conscious effort to roll out and then highlight what are perceived to be healthy menu items, only slightly more than half (51%) of the adults interviewed actually said they order them, although some 75% said they would like to see more healthy items on the menu.

However, the blame may not lie just in the items presented. Especially in a depressed economy, price matters. Over half (54%) of the Mintel respondents said it cost more to eat healthy in a restaurant. Maria Caranfa, a registered dietitian with Mintel Menu Insights, said, “When it comes to healthy menu items, the prices are often higher and less promoted.” Another contributing factor is that the sheer number of “regular” restaurant items eclipses the limited “healthy” menu items offered. Mintel Menu Insights discovered that, during Q1 2009, only 5% of new items carried a nutritional claim, while one in five food items was fried.

While people do say they want to eat healthier, their actions continue to say otherwise. “Over eight in 10 adults told us it is very or somewhat important to them to eat healthy, but when it comes to dining out, most people are really looking for taste, texture and experience,” stated Caranfa. It is a challenge for foodservice operators to present menu items that satisfy consumer’s expectations for indulgence, as well as their desire for a healthful meal. 

Restaurant Snacks at Home
Americans are eating on the move, and snacking has increased along with this trend. In many instances, snacks replace meals and now account for 21% of all meals consumed, according to a report titled, “Snack Foods Culinary Trend Mapping Report,” from Packaged Facts and the Center for Culinary Development.

As snacking has increased, so has the expectation of quality. Some higher end restaurant trends have contributed to this phenomenon, such as “gastropubs,” pubs that sell upscale snacks and small plates; cicchetti, small snacks inspired by Venetian versions of foods, such as mini-sandwiches and olives; and izakaya food, the Japanese versions of bar food, such as chicken wings and grilled short ribs. A surprising addition to the upscale lineup was artisanal pork rinds, presented in bags and oftentimes made from locally sourced natural or heritage-bred pork.

Other snacks were included in the report: high-end popcorn for adults, in flavors such as curry, black truffles and sharp Parmesan cheese; and seaweed snacks, in the form of chips and crackers, inspired by Korean and Japanese versions. Other snacks slowly making their way into the mainstream include chips from different types of potatoes, such as Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, and crispy vegetable and legume snacks that are baked or fried; ingredients range from soybeans to chickpeas to tomatoes. Also making headway are snacks with higher protein and fiber profiles that have been sweetened, such as brown rice, soybeans and lentils. A perennial favorite, nuts are enjoying a revival with bold flavors that include wasabi, soy, lime, chiles and herbs.  pf