Foodservice operators bank on health to grow

July 14, 2014

As restaurateurs build more healthful menus, supermarkets must respond with better-for-you prepared foods.

Originally published in Facts, Figures & the Future.

Restaurateurs will shift menus to healthier choices in 2014 to help attain higher forecasted growth rates – most notably with healthier foods, locally sourced items, cleaner ingredients and value products.  Already, 56% of operators surveyed by L.E.K. Consulting for its 2014 U.S. Foodservice Study say they “have already changed or are changing their menus to include gluten-free items.”

These health-driven decisions are being made against this backdrop:  74% of senior foodservice executives expect growth rates over the next three years will outpace the prior three, yet 60% believe the positive effects will be tempered by higher prices from the anticipated takeover of US Foods by Sysco.  As many as 15% fear the new combined entity will “take preferred products off the shelves, and offer pricier house brands instead.”  Overall, 44% anticipate higher labor costs and 41% see upward pressure on prices ahead in the next three years.

Since restaurant menu trends tend to set consumer expectations for tastes, variety and ingredients in supermarket prepared foods for takeout, F3 urges food stores to closely monitor the growing health image of eateries – and mimic with their own spin that makes dishes distinctive.  The table above specifies the steps restaurants are taking beyond gluten-free; a majority offering vegetarian or vegan (52%) and all natural choices (51%) lead a variety of health-skewed options.

One reason why restaurants are changing, believes F3, is to avoid the “veto vote” from someone in a group of potential diners who requires a healthy choice, but sees no satisfactory choice on the menu.  That same person may well be the chief household shopper the supermarket needs to please as well.  In our view, it would be reckless for grocers to give restaurants room to encroach on the health images they’ve worked so hard to establish.

Supermarkets shouldn’t abdicate part of a potentially growing business.  NPD Group forecast in 2013, “Instances of prepared food purchases by retailers for at-home consumption will increase by 10% [through 2022] compared to a 4% increase forecast for restaurant traffic.”  Supermarkets that aim to effectively steal trips from restaurants could use these insights from NPD Group:

  • Adults 35 and older are likelier than younger consumers to meet their at-home dinner needs with prepared foods from retail.  Millennials are more interested in snacks, and seniors 65 and older are more interested in lunch at home.
  • The most popular take-home items include chicken, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and sandwiches.  Some demographic differences:  Millennials tend to order non-fried chicken, as well as pizza, burgers and hot dogs, while consumers 50 and older buy both fried and non-fried chicken.

Another expert take on what restaurants are doing:  Julia Gallo-Torres, Mintel’s category manager for U.S. foodservice, recently told Specialty Food News, “specific information on the menu provides a level of transparency and helps build trust. “ A Mintel Menu Insights examination of more than 2,500 menus between Q4 2010 and Q4 2013 showed nutritional claims tied to specific ingredients rose 14%, while gluten-free claims were up 200%.  Organic remains the top ethical claim despite a 28% downturn in its use, due to higher organic food costs.