Business and Operations
Marketing Insights: April May 2012
A healthy profit
Anyone who runs a restaurant knows that special dietary requests are becoming commonplace.
Anyone who runs a restaurant knows that special dietary requests are becoming commonplace. Between six and eight per cent of Canadians have a real food allergy, says Dr. Ann Clarke, a professor at McGill University. The low end of that range equals about two million Canadians. At the high end, it translates to just over one in every 12 people. These statistics reflect those who’ve been formally diagnosed with a food allergy. Those who self-diagnosed bring these numbers up considerably. The estimates as to how many people “believe” they have a food allergy range from 10 per cent (CBC News) to 30 per cent (New York Times). Wherever the true number lands, it’s clear that on any given night several of your customers will be looking at your menu not for what they want to have, but rather for what they can have.
Providing safe, healthy options on your menu is more than simply a way to delight customers; it may actually be critical in making sure you’re the decision the party makes. If just one member of a dining party has a food allergy, intolerance or health issue, this individual may actively canvass to have the entire party go somewhere he or she knows has options that meet their needs. Not appealing to that one key consumer may cost you the entire table. With that in mind, let’s do some myth-busting around the biggest health issues impacting the restaurant industry.
A significant share of foodservice traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviours, shows the NPD report Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat. One of the top motivations for more healthful eating is to feel healthier. The number one feature consumers want in a meal is quality, such as fresh, natural, and nutritious ingredients. Fewer calories were among the least important features.
“Typically the perception has been that healthy eating to consumers means low-calorie and low-fat, and our findings show that the perception is not the reality,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD. “Clearly, descriptors like fresh or natural will resonate more with consumers than less calories.”
According to the Canadian Celiac Association, one in 133 Canadians has celiac disease, a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in the body’s inability to absorb protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Bakery items, pizza dough, pasta, beer, and even lunch meat, lipstick and some medicines contain gluten.
The growth in sales of gluten-free food products far outpaces the number of diagnosed celiacs, so eliminating gluten from the diet voluntarily seems to be a growing trend. Euromonitor International forecasted $1.31 billion in gluten-free food sales in the U.S. last year.
The worldwide figure is $2.67 billion. Sales have more than doubled since 2005 and are expected to hit $1.68 billion in the U.S. and $3.38 billion globally in 2015. This is a biggie for our industry, so sourcing or developing a tasty gluten-free dough recipe should be a consideration on your list of initiatives for the year.
Lactose is the sugar in milk products. Those who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase to break this sugar down. Lactose intolerance impacts more than seven million Canadians. This figure could be underestimated, as many people don’t associate their symptoms with eating foods containing lactose and some don’t have any symptoms at all.
Twenty-five per cent of patients clinically identified as lactose intolerant have celiac disease, so both dairy and gluten are concerns.
Lactose intolerance is prevalent in certain racial groups. In Asian populations (the fastest growing cultural group in Canada, according to Statistics Canada), lactose intolerance is almost 100 per cent. Among American Indians it is 80 per cent and in blacks it is 70 per cent.
The incidence of lactase deficiency in North American Caucasians is only 20 per cent, reports www.medicinenet.com. Look at soy cheeses, herbs, spices and other sauces as a way to top a pizza “pain free.”
Four per cent of the Canadian population call themselves vegetarians, according to the American Dietetic Association and the Dieticians of Canada. However, between 20 and 25 per cent of the population eats four or more meatless meals per week. These “flexatarians” shift from a diet with meat to one without, depending on their health, dietary needs and desires. Expand your toppings to include items such as eggplant, zucchini and broccoli. If they are lacto/ovo vegetarians (those who don’t eat meat but will eat dairy and eggs), try artisanal cheeses.
Crumble some tofu on top to add the protein component.
The trend towards healthier eating is fuelled in part by an aging population more aware of their health and in part by a consumer desire to eat fresh, clean, delicious food. It’s not going away anytime soon, so it’s a trend worth catering to. Make sure your staff ask about dietary restrictions when they are first taking an order. Customers will appreciate the chance to make their needs known up front. Since pizza is so incredibly versatile it can adapt to just about any eating restriction. Address the dietary issues and you may just see your guest count increase as word gets around that you are OK with special requests. You will definitely get top marks for demonstrating that you do care about their needs. •
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.