The healthy foods revolution: How consumers and providers are answering the call

By Lionel Binnie

Global sales of healthy food products are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017, according to Euromonitor. While many health fads have come and gone, this time the category has some serious traction and food service providers are sitting up and taking notice.

So what’s driving the demand for healthy foods? Savvy consumers, for starters.

Today we live in a smarter, more well informed world and the long-term effects of high-calorie, highly processed foods are well documented, leading to such life- threatening conditions as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A sobering message that has impacted consumer eating habits and buying patterns. Americans today are more proactive than ever in researching their food choices. They are also more willing than ever to make adjustments to how they shop forprepare and eat their food.

Consumers weigh in

This idea of using food to manage health may help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products. But the word “healthy” itself has evolved and expanded, with multiple definitions, depending on who you ask.

CucumbersHere’s what consumers said the term “healthy food” means to them, in a recent research paper by the International Dairy, Deli and Bakery Association:

  • “A healthy food looks fresh and nice, it has to be produced in a fine environment without a lot of chemical additions, the product has to be within the expiration time.”
  • “A natural mostly unprocessed item.
  • “If you won’t get fat from eating it.”Picture3
  • To me healthy means in its most natural state. Healthy food would be free of or have less pesticides, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.
  • “The nutrients of the product must contribute positively to the overall health of the body.”
  • “Foods that have health benefits in relation to diseases of heart disease, diabetes, etc.”

Food service providers weigh in –


Their mission is simple: Keep customers happy and coming back.

Many have answered the call for healthy food options and have incorporated them into their menus. What’s more, this nutritional quantum leap is taking place at such top eateries as Denny’s, IHOP, Friendly’s, Sizzler and Applebee’s:

  • For the first two months of 2011, the top selling entree at Applebee’s wasn’t a gloppy burger or flashy fajita plate. It was a sirloin and shrimp entree from the chain’s diet menu. “This marks the first time that a low-calorie item ever ranked as the chain’s best seller. I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”   — Mike Archer, Applebee’s president
  • “There’s a shift in eating habits among young, hungry guys. “They are looking for indulgent products that are more healthful.” — Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chainsPicture5
  • For years, consumers told Denny’s they wanted healthier options but wouldn’t actually buy them. But now, “It finally makes sense to carry them,” — Frances Allen, Denny’s chief marketing officer
  • “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years, and we couldn’t have given away healthier food in the early part of my career. Now, not only are people ordering them, but some are deciding not to go somewhere if they don’t have healthier items on the menu.”  — Jean Birch, IHOP presidentPicture6
  • “In 2011, we temporarily placed eight entrees under 550 calories on the menu at the beginning of the year. Four of them sold so well that they were placed on a permanent menu by summer.” — Andrea McKenna, Friendly’s chief marketing officer
  • Until last year, most Sizzler’s soups were premade. Now they’re freshly made. Recently, Sizzler added five fresh salads and fresh salmon to its menu. “We’re no longer only about a big piece of meat and a loaded baked potato. We’re not your grandparents’ Sizzler.” — Kerry Kamp, Sizzler CEO

Bottom line: The demand for healthier food options is more than just a passing fad and the broad definition of “healthy” provides countless opportunities for food service providers to upgrade prepared foods menus and update baked goods and other offerings to reflect consumer preferences.

“Give the people what they want.” It’s the key to good business.

Thanks for reading!

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