“Gluten-free.” “Organic.” “Natural.”
U.K. restaurant operators are fairly sure that these “health-halo” terms matter to their customers. But they’re less sure about how to develop menu items around these concepts, and then effectively convey these offerings via their menus.
Technomic’s exclusive menu-tracking database, MenuMonitor, finds that three of the leading health-halo terms—gluten-free, organic and natural—have yo-yoed on menus over the last three periods, at times increasing and at times decreasing in total menu mentions.
“Gluten-free” is by far the most prevalent of these health-halo terms, appearing a total of 494 times in the July–September 2012 period, up from 480 in the prior period. Despite dominating the health-descriptor category, gluten mentions are still down overall from a peak of 531 in the first quarter.
The bulk of gluten-free items are main dishes. Gluten-free mains range from items that traditionally contain wheat and, therefore, gluten, such as pasta dishes, to items that are almost never associated with gluten (steak, pork, etc.). This shows that operators are not only developing gluten-free versions of items that have historically been tied to gluten (Bella Italia offers gluten-free pasta, optioned on dishes such as the new Spaghetti Amatriciana) but also highlighting dishes that pose no threat to gluten-restricting guests (Carluccio’s just added Brasato Di Manzo, a beef-stew dish that is marketed as gluten-free).
There are currently 310 menu items billed as “organic” on leading U.K. restaurant menus. That’s up from 290 in the second quarter and 294 in the first quarter.
The types of menu items that are most likely to be organic have shifted. Currently, the bulk of organic menu mentions refer to non-alcohol beverages, which increased nearly 25 per cent since the second quarter. Mentions of organic milk, tea, coffee and juices jumped significantly. All of AMT Coffee Bars’ specialty coffee and hot chocolate drinks, for instance, feature “organic milk as standard.” The chain’s newest specialty coffee, Palomino Espresso, features “organic” in the menu description twice. Meanwhile, Le Pain Quotidien boasts that “our coffee and milk are Certified Organic.”
“Natural” presently appears in 135 menu descriptions, making it the third most common health-halo term. That number is up an impressive 24 per cent from 109 menu mentions in the previous quarter. However, there were 116 mentions in the first quarter. About two-fifths of “natural” descriptions refer to main dishes. Entrées described in this way have jumped more than 50 per cent on menus, suggesting that this is an area where operators can get in on the health-halo trend.
Big Easy and Boisdale both take to their menus to describe their “naturally reared Scottish beef.” Meanwhile, Cape and Varsity both tout their “naturally smoked bacon.”
Insight for Operators
That these three terms are at times up and at times down suggests that operators are struggling with how to consistently incorporate them into their menus. They may be uncertain whether they should be—and to what extent they should focus on—developing holistically healthy food and drink.
For the sake of concept differentiation, they might consider developing new gluten-free, organic and natural products in unexpected areas of the menu. Gluten-free on the menu often refers to pizza and pasta, yet Brasserie Blanc elects instead to market a Confit Pork Collar main. In the same vein, most mentions of “natural” refer to beef and pork products, but Carluccio’s differentiates its menu by calling its yoghurt natural. Just 11 brands offer organic kids’ items, revealing significant growth opportunities for restaurant and pub operators who target families.
Note: These findings come from Technomic’s MenuMonitor, an online searchable resource for in-depth menu tracking. With instant access to thousands (3,500) of current U.S. (1,900) and international menus (1,600), as well as powerful analysis tools, subscribers conduct customized searches to help identify trends and gain a better perspective of the global culinary terrain.