More on Healthy Eating

Our November 2003 Leisure eNewsletter issue included the article, A Mega-Trend of Healthy Restaurant Food. Only a month has passed, and additional evidence of restaurants, food suppliers and vendors responding to American's desires to eat healthier continues to roll in.

Here's the latest from the restaurant industry:

  • Ben & Jerry's is launching in January a line of soft-serve and reduced-fat shakes, sundaes and cakes for the health conscious.
  • Ruby Tuesday is switching to mono-unsaturated canola oil for frying and introducing a new Smart Eating low-carbohydrate menu of nearly 30 items.
  • Subway has rolled out a new low-carbohydrate sandwich option for every sandwich on the menu.
  • T.G.I. Friday's rolled out an entire line of Atkins-approved, low-carbohydrate foods Dec. 9 developed in partnership with Atkins Nutritionals (the Atkins diet firm). The New Atkins' offerings will be featured on two full menu pages with the number of carbohydrates spelled out.
  • Carl's Jr. announced plans along with its affiliate chain, Hardee's, to introduce the world's first fast-food "low-carb burgers." The bunless burgers will come wrapped in large leaves of iceberg lettuce. The two chains' chicken sandwiches also will be offered in the bunless format.
  • Red Lobster has introduced a healthy kids' menu with selections such as snow crab legs and steamed veggies.

Not exactly a restaurant, but definitely a player in the food-away-from-home market, 7-Eleven has introduced a calorie-free, diet-cola-flavored Slurpee.

Food suppliers are joining the healthier food bandwagon:

  • Frito-Lay has taken trans-fats out of every one of its products.
  • Tropicana plans to launch a reduced-calorie line of orange juice to be called Light 'n Healthy.
  • Heinz is introducing a low-carb ketchup with only one gram of carbohydrates per tablespoon compared with four grams for their regular ketchup.

Evidence that Americans are actually eating healthier continues to mount. A survey of 70,000 households by Information Resources, Inc. found that 28% had a least one family member on a low-sugar or low-carbohydrate diet. NPD Group has developed five labels for the quick categorization of households by eating habits. In 2000, it identified 16% of households as "Naturalists" because of their preference for natural cereals, unprocessed meals and snacks like baby carrots. This year, 21% of households fell into that classification. A survey of 2,080 adults in March by Mark Clements Research found one in three Americans on a diet. That figure was a 65% increase over one in five in 1993.

The November release of the current American Customer Satisfaction Index indicates that American's are starting to get sick of junk food. The survey was conducted by the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Center to measure consumer perceptions of common brands and products. The survey asked 10,644 U.S. consumers to rate their experiences with thousands of products. Companies making products associated with obesity and other health problems, including PepsiCo, Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Hershey Foods Corp. saw their scores drop while companies pushing their healthy food lines, including ConAgra Foods, Inc. that makes Healthy Choice brand foods and Kellogg Co. that makes the Morningstar Farms and Nutri-Grain Brands, saw their scores edge up.

The healthy eating movement is finding many parents on the war path about what schools offer their children to eat. A poll by Child magazine found 70% of poll-takers in favor of banning candy, soda and sweets from vending machines in public schools. By edict of the Texas Department of Agriculture, "foods of minimal nutritional value," including gum and candy, as well as soft drinks, were prohibited as of Aug. 1, 2003, in Texas schools. In August, the California legislature passed a bill banishing soft drinks, beginning in July 2004, from all elementary schools and from sale in middle schools during school hours. Juice drinks are acceptable provided they contain at least 50% juice and do not have added sweetener. Likewise, New York City has banned soda vending during school hours. More than 50 different legislative bills are reported to be pending in 33 states banning soft drinks, candy and other snacks in schools.

Coca-Cola has responded to this movement by issuing guidelines to its bottlers and distributors that no carbonated drinks should be sold in elementary schools during the school day and that in middle schools, carbonated drinks should not be sold in cafeterias. Pepsi previously recommended that its bottlers not sell carbonated drinks in elementary schools.

Some of the nation's best-known organic-food companies are scrambling to capitalize on the anti-junk-food movement in schools. In some schools, you now find soy chips, rice snack bars, pita chips and low-fat organic yogurt. Stoneyfield Farm, makers of organic-yogurt, has teamed up with other companies including PowerBar and Earthbound Farm to stock health-food vending machines in Rhode Island high schools with such healthy snacks as organic carrots and spinach dip, raisins and all-natural juices. And White Wave, Inc., maker of Silk soy milk, has installed soy milk vending machines in schools in Los Angeles.

In last month's healthy food article, we said the location-based entertainment industry needs to reinvent its food offerings and become more relevant to the modern consumer. This includes food that not only appeals to parents and moms, but healthy foods for their children. Research shows that moms have the greatest loyalty to companies that are socially responsible. Nothing is more responsible than showing respect for a mom's preference to see that her children eat healthy fare.

We worked with one of our overseas clients to develop a healthy child's menu that many facilities in the U.S. would consider extreme (but really isn't extreme based upon the standards of most contemporary moms). The facility does not serve any carbonated drinks, only 100% fruit juices, milk, coffee and tea. Yes, that's right, no Coca-Cola or Pepsi products. That facility was in Dubai in the Arab Gulf and served Europeans, Gulf Arabs and Indians. In Europe, the Gulf and India, there is high awareness of the harmful effects of carbonated drinks --especially colas -- on children's healthy development. Cola drinks include phosphoric acid. Research shows that phosphoric acid interferes with the healthy development of bones in children and actually leaches calcium from bones in women. We've not heard a single complaint from any guest in the center against this policy. In fact, many moms said they liked the policy.

We anticipate it won't be that far into the future before one of our clients will adopt a similar strategy to obtain a competitive advantage with moms in the U.S.