When dining out, many consumers order menu items that they don’t want to or can’t cook at home. That’s because consumers enjoy premium items when they’re eating away from home, and because they’re willing to pay more for them, these ingredients can boost check averages.
From sandwiches to seafood, better quality foods, brand name items and healthier options mean more consumer interest. For operators, there’s opportunity to cash in.
Eating healthy no longer only means cutting calories. Almost half (45%) of consumers say their definition of healthy food items has changed over the past two years, according to Technomic’s recent Healthy Eating report, while a third (33%) say they are ordering healthy items at foodservice locations more than they were two years ago.
As for what those healthy items are now, consumers prioritize menu claims of natural ingredients, foods low in sugar, cholesterol or sodium/salt and ingredients that offer health benefits such as being high in antioxidants, containing probiotics or having other functional benefits. In fact, 61% of consumers say they look specifically for natural items on menus, while 36% of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for low-cholesterol foods and 30% would pay more for low-sodium foods. Additionally, a third of consumers are willing to pay more for superfoods—foods high in antioxidants.
Joshua N. Dixon, Nestle Professional Chef, says, “Superfoods also help dress up a dish and add a premium finish to an otherwise simple preparation. Serve a roasted chicken breast, but finish it with some wilted baby arugula or baby kale. Dress that grilled halibut with some delicate microgreens for complimentary flavor as well as eye appealing garnish.”
Brand names also contribute to the premiumization of menus. Where non-branded items don’t, branded ingredients give customers something they recognize as a reference point of quality. For instance, a favorite pasta sauce made with name-brand tomatoes can be indication that a diner will enjoy their meal. And, for operators, using branded options can prove beneficial—according to Technomic’s 2017 Value & Pricing report, 31% of consumers say they would be more likely to purchase menu items with brand ingredients versus unbranded ingredients.
More upscale ingredients
Beyond better-for-you and branded items, diners are looking for premium options, and they’re willing to shell out for some of them—just think about how many people pay extra for guac every day. Technomic’s Value & Pricing report finds that 37% of consumers are seeking out higher quality menu items at restaurants more now than they were two years ago. Premium cheeses—options such as brie or blue cheese—can be priced a bit higher, while organic meats and sustainably-sourced seafood fall under the umbrella of higher quality as well.
Dixon says, “I think one of the best ways to incorporate premium items is to begin with something that is not too unusual or unfamiliar—and then give it provenance or characteristic standing. Cheese is an excellent example. Where you could say that you are using white cheddar cheese, instead it is a ‘nine-month-aged sharp cheddar from New York.’ Instead of blue cheese on your burger, I’m giving you ‘Moody Blue, a smoky blue cheese from Wisconsin’.”
And it’s not just cheese that can be premium, either. Dixon says, “Pork belly seems to be everywhere these days, and I’m not complaining about that. I’ve seen it as an add-on item for better burgers, and I’ve seen it featured in ethnic inspired dishes in non-ethnic restaurants. Everybody loves bacon, but this shows up as next level bacon. And it’s just as easy to find ways to feature it—as garnish, topping or primary component. It’s premium because of its decadence, it’s specialty because it’s not too common to purchase from the grocery store and produce at home. Stouffer’s White Cheddar Mac with Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly is pretty delicious!”
The premiumization of restaurant menus is happening in a variety of ways—from offering foods with functional attributes and better-for-you choices to sourcing brand-name ingredients to adding higher-end options to menus for an additional cost. Diners benefit by finding more of the foods they want to eat, and operators benefit because consumers are willing to pay more for these items—by charging more for premium items, a return on investment is inevitable.
This post is sponsored by STOUFFER’S®