The Skinny on The Food Pyramid

{mosimage}According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of the adult population is overweight and 31% are considered obese (with a body mass index of 30 or greater). The number of children ages 6 to 18 that are overweight has more than doubled in the last 20-plus years from 6% in 1980 to 16% in 2002.

Healthy eating is now a critical issue for the U.S. foodservice industry. The question is, how will the foodservice operator embrace this new dimension of healthy eating and how does that translate to foodservice distribution?

" Offering healthy foods that taste great and showing operators how these food products can be cost effective, build traffic and profit is the key."
As with most food trends, especially those involving healthy eating (the low cholesterol 70s, the low fat 80s and 90s, and the low carb 00s), foodservice operators respond on different levels at different times. Early adopters see their customers begin to customize their orders and quickly add menu items that fit the trend. Others wait to see how other operators are doing with these new menu items.

One thing for sure is that consumers are in the driver's seat and healthy products must deliver on flavor and quality to satisfy their needs. Your job, foodservice distributors (this category includes procurement as well as marketing and sales), is to make it easy for your operator-customers to get information about these products, show them how they fit the Food Pyramid, and provide menu suggestions and recipes that will ensure their success.

Get a Healthy Education As your operator's partner, your first course of action is to be aware and knowledgeable of each trend as it comes along, in this case, The Food Pyramid. Then, simply ask your customers the impact it is having on their business and how they plan to respond? Categorize each customer on a continuum of early adopter versus follower/laggard. Get a sense of where in the process they are to institute change, if any. Do they plan on being proactive or reactive?

{mosimage}This means you need to become knowledgeable about The Food Pyramid. A visit to website offers a tremendous resource for becoming educated on the details. The basics include the following:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetable

  • Eat more whole grains

  • Eat lean proteins

  • Choose realistic portions based on age, gender and activity level

  • Increase exercise

    More Fruits and Vegetables Consumers often translate healthy to mean fresh, and nothing says fresh more than fruits and vegetables. Help your customers incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their offerings with seasonal information, source facts, and show them how adding these items can add to their bottom line. Look to associations such as the Produce Marketing Association, The Produce for Better Health Foundation, the various industry advisory boards (strawberries, avocados, potatoes), and many of the branded suppliers for assistance. All of these offer recipes, online assistance, nutritional information and POS to help operators advance and enhance their offerings. Are there ways to add these items creatively to those consumers who don't care for these foods? Can fruit be pureed and creatively used a sauce?

    More Whole Grains There is a lot of confusion about what makes something a whole grain. Once again look to your manufacturer suppliers for information. The USDA website provides great lists of whole grain products. Compare this list with your offerings and how these items can become a greater part of an operator's offering. Be sure your product list indicates which are whole grain products for easy selection by those who desire information about this category.

    Lean Proteins All protein suppliers offer items which are lean and meet the criteria of the Food Pyramid. Find out which items your key suppliers offer and understand the recommended portion size. A leaner protein served in a portion that is two times the recommend portion no longer makes it lean. Remember, it runs much deeper than adding chicken and fish dishes to your menu. How should these items be prepared? An idea that combines these proteins with a flavorful lowfat sauce or seasoning could help you sell more higher margin seasoning blends.

    Portion Size Portion size reflects the age old dilemma of consumer value versus operator profits. Just what is the right portion? Well, of course, that depends. It depends on the consumer's age, gender and level of activity. Get a basic understanding of your customers' price / value perspective and how their consumers' order (do they split main dishes?). An ability to guide operators who want to know about various portion sizes and pricing is valuable.

    Exercise No one will really expect you to tackle this one directly. But indirectly, successful community-based sponsored activities (fun runs, kids fairs) can help operators show their communities they care about their well being. Operators will value their relationship with you if you can show the value of these types of activities. Bring a list of local community events to their attention and offer suggestions on how to get started in this kind of effort (if they haven't already).

    Steps to a Healthier Business Each distributorship should ask their customers how, if and when the Food Pyramid is impacting their businesses. Schools, healthcare, colleges and employee feeding facilities are more likely to look to you for suggestions on how to increase eating occasions and expand dayparts by offering healthier food options. Their customers patronize their operations frequently and is often their main source of food. Focus on your school, college and B&I customers and make them aware of your Food Pyramid knowledge and how you can help them meet the needs of those who desire these insights.

    Identify your commercial operator customers that are leaders in this effort to offer healthier, great tasting alternatives. Take them around to some of your non-commercial customers that are doing a good job so they can learn from others. A local college often has a progressive vegetarian or ethnic offering that's worth seeing.

    Offering healthy foods that taste great and showing operators how these food products can be cost effective, build traffic and profit is the key. Be sure you leverage information from your manufacturer suppliers regarding their healthy product offerings, as well as any consumer insights they have about The Food Pyramid. A proactive, knowledge-based approach on your part will help your customers put the Food Pyramid in perspective in their own operations.

    The Food Pyramid recommendations are based on a "One Size Does Not Fit All" approach to consumers. And as you know, "One Size Does Not Fit All" for customers either.

    Kim Rothstein is a principal with The Hale Group based in San Francisco. With 20 years in the foodservice industry, Rothstein also served as president of Lewis & Partners and Anderson / Rothstein, and as vice president of marketing for foodconnex worldwide(tm), an e-business solution provider for the food industry.

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