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Consumers’ rising demand for real ingredients

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Diners’ preferences for healthy food has been making an intriguing shift over the last several years. In fact, according to the recent Healthy Eating report from Technomic, when consumers want to order healthy items, 61% look for natural ingredients on menus, while 35% say they look for organic ingredients and 31% look for local ingredients.

Beyond natural and organic, though, there are several other words consumers associate with healthy food. Technomic’s Healthy Eating report found that 59% of consumers say they perceive food and drinks labeled “clean” as slightly or much healthier, and 57% say the same about food and drinks that are labeled “real.” While the labels may vary, it’s clear that consumers are seeking one thing: Menus that are free from chemically processed or synthetic ingredients.

As a result, restaurants are stepping up their clean label game to meet demand. By the end of 2017, Panera removed artificial flavors and colors, preservatives and sweeteners—including federally-approved artificial colors, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite and sodium phosphate—from the food at its 2,000 restaurants. Meanwhile, Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said it has removed 70% of artificial flavors, 78% of artificial colors and 97% of partially hydrogenated oil from its menus, with the goal of eliminating 100% of those three items by 2020.

While the FDA has mandated that certain ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oil be eliminated entirely, restaurants are moving away from other ingredients on their own in order to stay ahead of consumers’ desire for clean food. For example, casual-dining chain Arooga’s Grille House and Sports Bar now serves hormone-, antibiotic, -and steroid-free poultry and meats. Cheesecake Factory has begun sourcing antibiotic-free poultry, pork, eggs and beef. Noodles & Company also recently removed all artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors and preservatives from its soups, sauces and dressings, and serves antibiotic- and hormone-free pork and bacon.

Today’s consumers want to trust that restaurants are using real ingredients from suppliers they know and trust. That means mac-and-cheese made from real cheese and no preservatives, and lasagna with meat sauce made with 100% beef. Those real ingredients not only deliver a genuine scratch-made taste, they create food that consumers can feel good about eating.

Consumers vote with their dollars, which means that offering these types of clean-label options can also help boost ticket average: According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, 43% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase and are willing to pay more for natural food, while 40% say the same about “clean” fare.

Start introducing these foods and beverages onto the menus and promote them both in the restaurant as well as on other channels like social media, and watch the positive responses roll in.

This post is sponsored by Stouffer’s®

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