Making Healthy Appetizing
Flavor and freshness are prerequisites for healthy items just as they are for any other prepared food, SN’s sources agreed.
“Everything anyone does [with healthful items] has to lead with flavor,” said Maeve Webster, senior director, Chicago-based Datassential, a consulting and research firm specializing in consumer, operator and market research that’s focused specifically on the foodservice industry.
“Until recently, too many foodservice operations acted as if ‘healthy’ is value, but that’s the wrong way to look at it,” Webster added. Indeed, Webster, in a presentation at a recent trade show, gave this example: A naked turkey burger was priced slightly higher on average on restaurant menus than a regular beef burger that included a whole roster of free toppings.
“People have to actually like the food they eat as well as feel good about it,” Webster said.
Restaurant chains are adding more healthy items and customers are actually buying them, research shows. In addition to more variety, perhaps customers are responding because restaurants are making the descriptions sound tasty, and/or are interspersing healthful items with others on their menus.
Webster pointed out that some restaurants have included their healthy items with others on the menu, instead of calling them out in a separate section.
At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., a set of six mayo-less salads, introduced last fall, are given their own space in the deli’s self-service case. Their cool, trendy names — including roasted corn poblano and couscous primavera with feta — undoubtedly add appeal to them.
“And we demo them and use suggestive selling,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said.
As a general rule, Webster at Datassential recommends prepared food departments call out something that’s been added rather than taken away.
“For instance, instead of saying ‘less salt’ or ‘less fat,’ add something such as artisan bread, or bread with an interesting texture. Pile fresh veggies on top of a sandwich, play around with different sauces,” she said. “That way you’re adding to the value proposition.”
Read more: Fresh Meal Purchases Slump
Artisan breads are something consumers have become familiar with and seek out so including them as an accompaniment to a salad could be a plus. So could another customer favorite, fresh mozzarella.
“Give me something I already like, or a healthier version of what I like,” Balzer said.
Super Foodtown’s culinary team is doing exactly that with a healthier version of chicken parm that consists of grilled chicken breast, fresh tomato slices and mozzarella.
“We call it our Italiano,” Cantalupo said. “Another thing we do that’s colorful and looks good are our eggplant towers. They’re stacked slices of peeled, grilled eggplant, with slices of fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella in between the slices.” They’re stacked high so they stand out in the prepared food case.
“These things look good, and taste good, and people can eat them without feeling guilty,” Cantalupo said.
Super Foodtown’s open kitchens are very important, Cantalupo added, because customers are placing increasing importance on freshly prepared food.
“A lot of adding value to any of our food, including our healthy items, is our excellent customer service. If we see someone looking at a particular item, we’ll ask if they want to taste it, and we can answer questions about anything they’re not familiar with,” Cantalupo said.
“They know, too, that if they want a special bread, maybe a particular whole grain, for a sandwich, we’ll go right back to the bakery and get it.”
Twice a week, the company has $6 meals with a lot of options including seven different entrees and sides such as sautéed kale or escarole.
Tom Droegkamp, deli manager, at a Festival Foods store in LaCrosse, Wis., said he pays a lot of attention to color in the prepared foods case, especially the displays of healthier items. Color is important just to get customers to focus on the items, he said.
“For example, we just added an edamame bean salad and we made sure we made it pop with a mix of colorful peppers stirred in.
“The actual colors make it more interesting than just that it’s healthy. That’s for sure.”