Consumers are becoming more educated about the dangers associated with hormone-treated meats and artificial products and are seeking “real” and “natural” meals. Some health-halo terms, such as antibiotic-free or organic, have very clear requirements and standards while others, such as “authentic” or “premium” are vague and do not allow for direct comparisons. Although descriptors like “fresh” are still very appealing to consumers, they run the risk of losing their effectiveness with time as consumers seek explanation or evidence of the descriptors.
“Fresh” and “natural” claims are popular in part due to the rising interest in sustainable products and initiatives. Consumers believe that products that are sourced sustainably are good for the earth as well as their bodies, and see the importance in taking care of both. Similarly, consumers are seeking more vegetarian offerings. Although only a small percentage of the population is strictly vegetarian, more consumers see the benefit of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet. As a result, there is more demand on operators to menu vegetarian dishes, ideally offerings that incorporate superfoods or on-trend vegetables and grains.
Operators are adding a variety of health descriptors on menus and many do not have clear definitions or nationally recognized standards. Consumers find it difficult to attach a monetary value to these labels and are often unwilling to pay a price premium for products that boast vague call-outs. It is not surprising that high-demand descriptors – defined as attributes that consumers want and are willing to pay more for – revolve around measurable benefits. More than two-thirds of consumers want menu items that include a full serving of vegetables (38%) and a full serving of fruit (34%). When evaluating proteins, consumers are particularly interested in meat that is hormone-free (37%) and antibiotic-free (36%). Our busy lifestyle also has an impact on the products we are looking for – the fastest growing descriptors are “energy-boosting” and “stress-relieving”. The demand for these functional products demonstrates the holistic approach consumers are beginning to take and how they are looking to food and beverage to improve their quality of life.
However, consumers don’t want to forfeit an opportunity to splurge at a restaurant. Although consumers are visiting foodservice locations now more than ever, trips to a restaurant are often viewed as a treat and an opportunity to enjoy an experience without counting calories. While only 36% of consumers will order based on nutritional content in order to eat more healthfully at restaurants, the majority of customers seek a middle ground.
Nearly two-thirds of consumers (71%) will eat more healthfully by skipping a dessert, and nearly half (49%) will integrate a healthy item into the meal such as a side salad rather than an order of French fries. This attempt to balance fun with responsible eating habits perfectly showcases the new approach to dieting, which does not include fads, slashing fat, or dramatically counting calories, but is an ongoing compromise with nutritional content and enjoyment of indulgence.