Consumers Want Real Foods

Mar 16, 2015

Allen R. Williams, Ph.D.

A recent article in Nation’s Restaurant News by Nancy Kruse emphasized that consumers are continuing the trend of demanding “real” foods. Nancy stated that consumers are putting increasing emphasis on their health and diet, maintaining youth and vigor, and seeking to have an impact on improving the environment. This is fueling a demand for what the consumer considers real food. Key components of real foods, as perceived by the consumer, are freshness, seasonal foods, and less processed foods.
Primary concerns are the use of antibiotics, growth promoting hormones, and artificial ingredients and preservatives. This has led to a number of restaurant chains announcing that they are implementing phase outs of foods produced with human antibiotics and growth promoting hormones. This includes recent announcements by Chik-fil-A, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, and others. Carl’s Jr. has introduced an All Natural Grass Fed Beef hamburger with a premium price tag. So far it has tested well in their test markets. If sales reach targeted numbers, then the All Natural Burger will be expanded to more Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations.

Consumers are also rethinking the use of foods containing trans fats from hydrogenated vegetable oils. This includes many of the margarine brands currently on the market. They are now moving back towards animal fats as a “real foods” solution. This has benefited butter, lard, and other animal fat use in the diet. Consumption of animal-based fats has sharply increased to a 40 year high. It is interesting to note that the incidence of heart disease and neurological issues, such as various forms of dementia, have increased sharply over the past 40 years with the sudden decrease in the use of animal fats in the diet. Many “Better Burger” concepts and other restaurants have been touting their use of more natural foods, ingredients, and animal fats/butter. For example, Epic Burger is touting buttered buns, Chicago’s Bang is advertising that they “proudly use leaf lard”, Honey Buttered Fried Chicken is using leftover chicken fat for their Schmaltz Smashed Potatoes, and Top Round Roast Beef is cooking their hand-cut fries in 100% beef fat.
Additionally, other protein-rich food sources are becoming increasingly popular. This includes the rapid surge in Greek yogurt sales, Lentils, Quinoa (a protein-rich grain), and broths. According to Nancy Kruse, this concept of “real food” will continue to grow and will encompass sustainably grown foods, organic foods, farm to table foods, and seasonal foods. She states that restaurants and retailers will need to understand their customer’s expectations in order to manage this growing trend.

Nancy Kruse’s findings are backed up by the recent National Restaurant Associations What’s Hot in 2015 Survey. This annual survey of 1300 chefs showed that locally sourced meats and seafood is the No. 1 food trend in restaurants. The desire for new cuts of meat came in at No. 6 on the survey, further driving this trend. I have personally seen increased interest in chefs from around the country interested in the potential to purchase beef quarters and fabricating within the restaurant to produce various cut options and menu items.

Coming in at No. 2 in the What’s Hot for 2015 survey was locally grown produce, No. 3 was environmental sustainability, No. 4 was Healthy kid’s meals, and No. 5 was more natural ingredients/minimally processed food.

In the Main Dishes category, the primary items of interest were locally sourced and new cuts of meat, followed by sustainable seafood, non-traditional fish and grass-fed beef. Artisan and specialty food items were mentioned often particularly artisan cheeses, breads, and bacons. Appetizers of interest included house-cured meats and charcuterie, along with ethnic-inspired items. It was interesting to note that gluten-free dish requests were fading with less consumer interest being expressed.

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