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The many faces of dieting

Atkins is over, and South Beach has had its day—but Americans are purportedly more health-conscious than ever before. Following, what you need to know about four major types of diners.

Calorie Counters

The stats: About 54 percent of Americans are “watching” their diet, largely because they want to lose weight, according to a Mintel survey.

Who’s doing it right: Founded on the idea that consumers want a healthy alternative to fast food, Pita Pit, an Idaho-based QSR, uses variety to make eating healthy more interesting. The company offers 16 different sauces and lots of fresh vegetable and lean meat combinations for its Lebanese-style pitas.  Its Web site features an interactive calorie counter. “The customer can really be inventive and won’t get bogged down ordering the same thing every time just to keep the calorie count low,” says Paul Irwin, a Pita Pit executive.

In stores, the Resolution Solution section of the menu features low-cal options such as a buffalo chicken pita with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion (350 calories).

Fresh Fanatics

The stats: More than half of respondents to a Mintel survey on healthy dining trends said they equate freshness with health.

Who’s doing it right: Jason’s Deli, a Texas-based fast-casual chain, owns its own distribution company. As a result, each unit receives fresh vegetable and meat deliveries every morning. The chain also has eliminated trans fat and MSG as part of its promise to deliver “real” food to its customers.

“The freshness of our food more than makes up for the lack of flavor-enhancing chemicals and unhealthy ingredients,” says Daniel Helfman, a Jason’s spokesman. “At first it was mostly people on the East and West coasts who paid attention to what was put into their food, but now the trend is spreading to middle America.”

Locavores

The stats: As a Mintel report states, “A healthy meal can mean different things to different people.” And while local doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, consumers do see a connection between local food and freshness. What’s more, 60 percent of respondents to a Mintel survey on diners’ attitudes towards food say they buy local food whenever possible.

Who’s doing it right: Seventy percent of Burgerville’s menu is locally sourced. “In recent years I’ve noticed a growing interest in eating locally, especially among younger people and female diners,” says Jeff Harvey, the Oregon/Washington QSR’s president and CEO.

Burgerville highlights its locally sourced food in seasonal specials on a monthly basis—for example, a fresh asparagus and tomato grilled cheese sandwich in May and a balsamic, strawberry, goat cheese and arugula panino in June.

Rule-Breakers

The stats: While there’s growing consumer awareness about the importance of healthy eating, Mintel research also shows that many diners continue to see dining out as an excuse to splurge. Mintel says the number of healthy menu items is dwarfed by what it calls “anti-health” offerings.

Who’s doing it right: At Walter’s, a fine dining restaurant in Portland, Maine, decadent items—a chestnut chocolate torte, a flourless chocolate soufflé with peanut butter gelato and peanut brittle—are the top sellers on the dessert menu. Tiramisu and crème brulée, neither of which is remotely diet-friendly, also sell well. “Occasionally I see adults, often women, sharing a dessert, but I haven’t noticed a lot of demand for healthier items on the menu,” says Jeff Buerhaus, the restaurant’s chef and CEO.

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