The Evolving Definition of Healthy

The last two years have seen a transformation in America’s opinion of what is considered healthy eating. Consumers will start applying the new definition of healthy in earnest as the holidays end and New Year’s resolutions kick in. Evidence from our most recent Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report shared below indicates exactly how healthy eating habits have changed over the past two years. Here are a few insights into consumers’ new definition of healthy and strategies to put the knowledge to use.

  • Know your audience and serve them correctly. While consumer data indicates the country’s sense of what is and what is not healthy has changed over the past two years, different age groups still have different ideas on the subject. For instance, while descriptors like “clean” and “organic” are gaining ground with younger audiences, baby boomers are renewing interest in low-cholesterol, low-carb and low-sodium items. America is evolving into a more holistic understanding of healthy eating, but older consumers are generally sticking to the idea that healthy means cutting unhealthy items out of a diet.
  • Importance of animal welfare. One thing younger and older consumers can agree on is the need for humane treatment of animals. More than 60% of survey respondents indicated they are more likely to purchase cage-free eggs or free-range meat than food not labeled as such. The need for transparency is key to properly communicating an interest in animal welfare to consumers. Over half of consumers also claim that menu transparency is important to them. Not only do restaurant-goers want to know what’s in their food, they also now want to know how their food was treated before it lands on their plate.
  • Healthy options drive traffic. While consumers don’t always follow through on purchasing healthful food even if they say they want it, making consumers aware that healthy options are on offer can be a traffic driver. The report indicates that nearly 40% of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant with healthy options than those without, even if they don’t order them. In fact, consumers are more likely to eat healthy at home and indulge when they go out to eat, as only 21% choose to eat healthy when eating out. Despite this trend, chains positioning themselves as health-focused can reap benefits from increased foot traffic.
  • Offerings have shifted. The past five years have seen a 118% increase in the number of mentions of healthy items on menus. While the fine-dining segment has increased its mention of healthy items on menus the most over the past two years, casual-dining restaurants still offer more healthy items than any other segment. This is likely because casual-dining chains host more groups than other segments and want to make sure everyone in any group, even those who are gluten-free or vegan, can find something to eat on the menu.

AS I SEE IT, many consumers no longer look at healthy eating as a chore, but as a lifestyle. These consumers, especially millennials, feel that healthy food should both taste good and have a positive physical effect on the eater and the environment. Operators should be prepared to meet a wide variety of healthy expectations, including the more traditional wants of older consumers. Operators should also make nutritional and supply chain information readily accessible to consumers. People want to feel good about what they eat and where they’re eating, and efforts to stymie that curiosity will only make consumers more suspicious.

Note: This content originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Technomic’s Foodservice Digest newsletter

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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