In its recently released “Future of LSR: Fast-Food and Fast-Casual Restaurant Consumer Trend Report,” Technomic explores consumer attitudes and behaviors at limited-service restaurants (LSRs). In a series of questions aimed at uncovering unmet food demands, consumers were asked whether there are any types of food or beverages that they would like to see offered at more LSRs.

Healthy foods top the list of responses, with nearly one in three consumers (29%) saying they would like LSRs to offer more better-for-you fare. Beyond that, there is significant interest in more salad and pizza/flatbread options (23% for each).

Restaurant operators are getting the message. Technomic has identified an uptick in the number of menu items at leading chain restaurants that are billed as healthy. “Skinny” has emerged as an on-trend menu descriptor, increasing in menu incidence nearly 6% between late 2011 and early 2012. Au Bon Pain introduced several new sandwiches on Wheat Skinny Bagels; Baja Fresh Mexican Grill rolled out a Skinny Chicken Bowl. Salads have long benefited from a healthful perception, meaning they already satisfy two of the types of food consumers would like to see more. A new trend, however, incorporates all three: healthy salads on pizza or with flatbread. CPK ASAP, the limited-service spinoff of California Pizza Kitchen, tops a honey-wheat pizza crust with Bosc pears, caramelized onions, hazelnuts, and Gorgonzola, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, then adds lightly dressed field greens. Cosí added an Adobo Lime Chicken Salad served with a choice of flatbread.

Smart food processors will use this information to evaluate and bolster their own product lines, as well. Witness Kraft Foods: It recently got in on the increased interest in flatbreads, via its iconic Lunchables brand, by introducing seven new products within the Lunchables with Fruit line. Included in that line are three types of flatbread sandwiches: turkey and Cheddar, ham and American, and peanut butter and jelly. Each comes with a full serving of fruit: Tree Top applesauce or Dole Mandarin oranges. Meanwhile, Nestlé USA’s DiGiorno pizza brand, through its 200 Calorie Portions line, offers four low-calorie pizzas. These two examples capitalize on consumers’ desire for more healthy foods, as well as more pizza/flatbreads.

Given that read-to-eat packaged foods can easily take dollars away from foodservice and vice versa, it’s important for executives on both sides to be cognizant of the trends and behaviors that their competitors’ customers are displaying. Consumers particularly want to see more healthy fare, salads and pizza/flatbreads when thinking about quick-and-convenient restaurant meals; manufacturers in the retail channel looking to lure foodservice customers should consider menu development in these areas.

Darren Tristano is executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information or to order the “2012 Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report,” visit

Strong demand exits for more better-for-you options at limited-service restaurant segments. A sizeable percentage of consumers would also like to see more salads and pizzas/flatbreads at LSRs.