Mar 25 2011
By Brona Cosgrave (@bronacos)
Real food, please. I’ve touched on this topic before regardless of the ingredients or nutritional value, people want to eat food that tastes good, no ifs, buts or whys about it, and if it tastes good it will be consumed and enjoyed. And that’s how it should be! So while American consumers are seeking our healthier food options both at home and while dining out, they still want good tasting food. I believe this is why there is a marked increase in interest in “real food”, that is unprocessed, fresh food.
Americans are beginning to pay attention to what they eat and not just in terms of calories and basic nutrition, but they are also showing an interest in the quality of the food they eat too. It’s a slow turnabout that has yet to reach a critical mass but with the attention of the First Lady, and soon to be author, Michelle Obama, initiatives sponsored by state officials across the country (e.g. Adam Putman of Florida), recent legislation to increase availability of fresh fruit and vegetables to school foodservice programs and the enduring popularity of reality television programs like The Biggest Loser, and its spin-offs, this new perspective is taking hold!
A recent Nielsen report on online conversations about food and health shows that more consumers are online talking about fresh foods, unprocessed foods and healthy eating in the same conversation. The report’s findings also include that fresh and unprocessed foods generate the highest volume of all conversation with the topics of fiber and carb presence, sodium-levels, preservative-free and sugar-free all trending up. Among those who claim they are “Health Enthusiasts” gluten-free, low- and no-sodium offerings, fresh fruits and spices are all hot topics.
So how does this shift in consumer preferences impact the foodservice industry? Do chefs need to become RDs? Probably not. With FDA menu-labeling regulations pending (they were due March 23), research conducted by NPD Group sheds light on how calorie listings on quick serve restaurant menus can impact diner’s choices. Certain popular items like French fries, large hamburgers, carbonated soft drinks, onion rings and shakes may be ordered less but overall calorie counts per meal are unlikely to change. According to Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant analyst “Calories aren’t the main priority for diners who are looking for healthy options when they eat out… fresh, natural and nutritious (are more) important…”
Chefs need to consider their menu offerings not just in terms of total calories and nutritional value but more importantly in terms of freshness and quality. Replacing empty calories with nutritionally dense ones without sacrificing great taste and flavor is the challenge they face, but then what good chef does not like their creativity put to the test. And it’s not like there are many flavor restrictions – Americans already enjoy a myriad of ethnic cuisines. Admittedly some cuisines have been altered to cater to the American palette but still the country’s cuisine reflects a global table. I for one look forward to many tasty dining experiences where I get to eat “well” in every sense of the word.