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Keeping it clean

clean label natural ingredients restaurant menu

On menus, “clean” means a lot of different things, from natural and less-processed ingredients to more holistic concepts such as authenticity, transparency and sustainability. It even touches upon issues such as local sourcing and the humane treatment of animals. There’s also more than a little accommodation for special dietary needs, including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.

And make no mistake: It’s changing the face of the restaurant industry.

According to Technomic’s 2014 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 60 percent of survey respondents felt that food or beverages described as “clean” were also healthy. Other key words or phrases associated with health included “natural” (cited by 72 percent); organic (65 percent); and real (54 percent). Adjectives such as “preservative-free,” “having no artificial sweeteners,” “antibiotic-free” and “hormone-free” also elicited strong perceptions of health. And in fact, 40 percent of consumers say they are now more concerned about additives in food than they were in 2012. 

And operators are responding to this consumer call. At True Food Kitchen, the “honest food” brand of Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, the menu touts an approach that gives the body nutrients and the palate something memorable. The approach is healthy, including components of an anti-inflammatory diet, as well as a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

But this is not about deprivation—with the motto of “honest food that tastes really good,” there is a vegan braised artichoke pizza, an entree of sustainable steelhead (a fish that tastes like a cross between trout and salmon) with smoked onion tabbouleh, and a grass-fed bison burger on a flax-seed bun.

“Natural refreshers” such as the Honeydew & Ginger Soda, Kale Aid (kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger) and pomegranate limeade continue the clean, healthy theme.

“People are so much more conscious of what they put in their bodies now,” says Clint Woods, vice president of culinary for the 12-unit concept, which has half a dozen more locations scheduled to open later this year. Much of the menu, which changes with the seasons, focuses plant foods: quinoa and other ancient grains, nuts, beans including Anasazi and edamame and, of course, an array of produce. “Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables just always taste so good, and I think too many people have forgotten how delicious they can be,” he says.

Here are a few ways operators can jump on this trend and clean up their menus:

  • Investigate cleaner-label basic ingredients and prepared items, such as stocks, sweeteners, flour, canned tomatoes or dairy products.
  • Introduce more seasonal items through regular menu changes, LTOs or specials—seasonal is fresh, and fresh is clean.
  • Look for protein items such as cage-free eggs, all-natural chicken, grass-fed beef, sustainable seafood (whether wild or farm-raised) and promote them on the menu.
  • Make sure to identify anything made in house, from salad dressings to beef that’s ground on premise.
  • Call out food sources, such as a local farm or artisanal cheesemaker.
  • If possible, take the ultimate step to transparency by putting food prep on display, with an exhibition cooking, a window into the kitchen or a mobile prep cart in the dining room.

This post is sponsored by Smucker Foodservice

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