Canadians’ health, and the role diet plays, has been a hot topic in the news recently as consumers continue to call for more labelling and transparency in foodservice.
A recent study covered in a story by The Globe and Mail showed that from 2010 to 2013, many Canadian restaurant chains failed to reduce sodium in menu items or even added salt to their dishes. The study found that just 30% of food items included in the survey saw salt levels decline in that time period.
In the story, a Restaurants Canada spokesperson emphasized that the industry remains committed to reducing the amount of salt in the food it serves, but it’s a complicated issue, as consumers like the taste of salt.
The statement isn’t off the mark: Technomic’s recently released 2014 Canadian Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report finds that one in four consumers think anything ordered at a restaurant is less healthy than the same item prepared at home. For many consumers, eating at a restaurant is a chance to indulge, so they’re not necessarily looking for healthy options. Nearly half of consumers say they considered healthier options when dining out, compared with 42% of consumers who actually purchased these options.
But offering both healthy and indulgent menu options, keeping in mind the concept’s core customer, will benefit restaurant operators moving forward. Allowing consumers to customize their meal to meet their taste and health needs can go a long way to satisfying a range of tastes, especially as consumers today indicate they eat more healthfully at restaurants than they did two years ago.
The report also suggests some key areas of opportunity in healthy menu options for Canadian restaurant operators.
- To appeal to health-conscious consumers, operators can work with their suppliers to offer healthier versions or smaller portions of appetizers and desserts.
- Operators and suppliers alike should pay particular attention to healthy offerings at breakfast and dinner—the dayparts when consumers are most likely to seek out a healthful menu choices.
- Revamping children’s menus to emphasize healthful options may increase traffic among consumers with young children.
For some operators, promoting healthy options may not require menu changes. Instead, operators should be transparent and highlight the health functions of food and beverages. For example, Boston Pizza last month partnered with not-for-profit Hockey Canada and performance dietitian Kelly Anne Erdman to put together an Athlete’s Choice Menu using existing items that contain enough calories, sodium and fat to fuel an athlete for a big game. Over the past year, Jugo Juice released two new “xtra Benefits” superfoods for their smoothies—spirulina, a dark blue-green algae high in beta carotene and chlorella, a green algae high in chlorophyll.
Canadian restaurant operators should take note and continuously evaluate ways they can meet the needs of health-conscious consumers without neglecting those seeking menu indulgences. Particularly quick-service restaurants will face increasing competition for these healthy eaters as retailers ramp up their healthy offerings—7-Eleven Canada aims to have 20% of its sales coming from fresh foods by 2015.