US restaurant operators beefing up its healthy snacks offerings in order to increase sales

July 1, 2014 () – Consumers are visiting restaurants more frequently when it comes to satisfying the urge for a snack, industry observers report. But while many still are interested in ordering healthful selections, they also are looking to indulge themselves when they go out.

About one-third of consumers polled by Technomic Inc., reported snacking more frequently than they did just two years ago. Half of those surveyed indicated “healthfulness” was very important to them in choosing a snack.

“In the case of great tasting food that is also good for you — that’s probably the biggest unmet need for the American consumer,” says Michael Donahue, a former McDonald’s Corp. executive who is now a co-partner LYFE Kitchen, a healthful fast-casual restaurant chain headquartered in Chicago with seven locations in Illinois, California, Colorado and Texas.

Foodservice operators who can combine “healthy” with “indulgent” are finding that this niche in the dining-out snack category can be a dependable revenue generator. As a result, operators have been beefing up offerings to include smaller plates or items with fewer calories, juices, smoothies and other snackable selections, from chicken wraps at McDonald’s to 310-calorie flatbread turkey breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin’ Donuts. Jamba Juice also offers flatbreads while Taco Bell has its “Fresco” menu of 350-calorie tacos.

“Restaurants are bringing people in the door with the promise that they will have something healthy,” says Warren Solochek, vice president of client development for Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group. “People are well intentioned, and if they can find healthier food that tastes good, it’s a good thing.”

Some restaurants are focusing all of their energies on offering nutritious food for mealtimes and in-between snacks.

LYFE Kitchen — LYFE is an acronym for “love your food everyday” — is 3-year-old sustainable food concept founded by Donahue and Mike Roberts, a former chief executive of McDonald’s. The pair consulted with expert chefs and engineers who designed kitchen equipment to rapidly cook food without the use of butters and oils. Customers stop by later in the afternoon for flatbreads, roasted Brussels spouts and kale-banana smoothies, says Donahue whose title is brand relations officer. The company expects to have 13 or 14 units by the end of the year.

Snacks also are helping to generate traffic and revenue for the concept across the various dayparts. “There is no such thing as three dayparts anymore,” Donahue says. “We find customers who want yogurt in the morning come in between meals to have a snack. People are eating five times a day.”

Offering such menu items as grass-fed beef, and organic and locally sourced fruits and vegetables, LYFE may have higher-than-average food costs, but the chain also prices itself competitively, Donahue says.

“When we had to make decisions that would increase our food costs, we would make them,” he says. “And although we are very affordable, we believed consumers would accept reasonable pricing if we made [more healthful food] available to them.”

In addition to desiring more healthful menu items, consumers are redefining what actually constitutes a snack, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based research firm. The definition for snacks comprises a wide range of food items — including beverages.

Indeed, with the higher profit margins on beverages, enhancing offerings to include juices and smoothies is a smart play for operators, says NPD's Solochek.

“When people go out for a snack, they go out for a beverage, a smoothie, a special coffee — that’s a snack,” he says. “Beverages tend to be less expensive, flavor profiles are really broad and clearly the per-beverage profit tends to be high.”

Pressed Juicery, the Los Angeles-based juice company that sells bottled, cold pressed juices and almond milk beverages, launched a new “snack” in June called Freeze — a soft-serve treat made from the juices of fruits and vegetables. The soft-serve does not contain any sugars or additives, and is dairy-free and gluten-free.

Proprietary machines help to create the creamy and smooth drink, which is available in six flavors — a greens freeze, a citrus freeze, a fruit freeze, a roots freeze, and a vanilla or chocolate freeze. The snacks are served in a bowl, and customers can sprinkle them with such toppings as coconut shavings, fresh fruit, granola and nuts.

It took two years for Pressed Juicery co-founder Hayden Slater to develop the concept.

“As someone who has always had a sweet tooth, I felt there has never been something in the frozen squeeze category that I can consume and not feel guilty about,” Slater says.

Pressed Juicery has 20 locations in California. Freeze is being rolled out in the Palo Alto store and later at locations in Orange County and Hollywood.

Slater is anticipating strong profits from the new drink, but admits customers need to be open minded and willing to try new things.

“It is a revolutionary product; there has never been anything like it,” he says. “Essentially, it is designed to appeal to a child or anyone who likes soft serve. I’m fairly confident that when they take that first sip, they will be blown away by what they experience.”

© 2014 Penton Media

* All content is copyrighted by Industry Intelligence, or the original respective author or source. You may not recirculate, redistrubte or publish the analysis and presentation included in the service without Industry Intelligence's prior written consent. Please review our terms of use.