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Meeting the consumer push for protein

It seems as though going gluten-free may no longer be the diet du jour. Spurred on by health and wellness trends such as the Paleo diet and the Whole 30 challenge, health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking out more protein. In fact, according to recently released research from The NPD Group, 78 percent of consumers believe that protein contributes to a healthy diet, and 67 percent of consumers think it’s important to be aware of how much protein they’re consuming every day.

Furthermore, despite the popularity of alternative proteins such as quinoa, for many consumers, animal protein is still king: half of consumers consider animal protein to be the best source of protein, according to The NPD Group, and of those consumers, approximately one-third believe beef outshines other animal proteins such as poultry or fish.

This consumer call for protein can spell opportunity for restaurant operators in more ways than one, even in the face of rising costs. “Despite what have been pretty dramatic fluctuations in protein prices, the number of restaurant [operators] who changed their menus was relatively small,” says Justin Massa, founder and CEO of Chicago-based research firm Food Genius. “It’s clear that consumer demand for beef, for example, has outstripped commodity costs.”

For operators who are looking to promote protein on their menus, here’s a few ideas for menuing items that will appeal to protein seekers as well as generate excitement:

Think beyond center-of-plate

Unsurprisingly, protein is most typically menued as a main course—in fact, according to Food Genius, 70 percent of protein dishes are entrée items. However, operators should strive to incorporate protein in other areas of the menu as well. “Sides and add-ons make up 6 percent of menu items across the country, but only 3 percent of dishes that contain a protein are sides,” says Massa. “Operators have a huge opportunity to grow the number of side items that incorporate protein.”

Menu non-chicken appetizers

56 percent of appetizer items include protein items, and 33 percent of those items feature poultry, according to Food Genius (think chicken wings). Menuing additional proteins such as beef, shellfish or pork can be a way to capitalize on the protein trend. “Appetizer menus give you a lot of freedom to experiment and explore; there’s no one thing you have to have on your menu,” says Massa. “For operators who are thinking of places to add more menu items, non-chicken appetizers are a great place to start.”

Call out protein on menus

According to Massa, operators who are menuing protein shouldn’t hesitate to let their customers know that they’re doing so. Using menu call-outs for items that are high in protein or Paleo-friendly can be a good way to point consumers to dishes that intentionally highlight protein. For example, operators who menu a breakfast parfait with Greek yogurt instead of traditional yogurt should label that on their menus. “We see relatively few items that call out protein,” says Massa. “If you’re adding protein to an item with the goal of increasing protein content, call it out.”

This post is sponsored by National Beef

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