Selling health

Research shows the market for healthy food is growing.

Research shows the market for healthy food is growing.

How your business can tap into Australia’s growing appetite for healthy eating

Long gone are the days when healthy eating meant bland, vegetarian casseroles. And while it’s still not quite synonymous with dining out, more Australians are looking for healthy options when buying a meal out of their homes. Experts say a potent marketing opportunity exists for those businesses who can tap into this growing trend to promote their business.

The Federal Government identified the increasing problem of obesity early this decade and has poured millions of dollars into promoting healthier eating—especially with its Go for 2 & 5 campaign to encourage people to eat their recommended two serves of fruit and five of vegetables a day.

And it seems it’s having an effect on us consciously, or not. According to recent research commissioned by American Express as part of its Industry Insights survey, one third of the population is now eating less junk food than they did 12 months ago; and equal numbers are also cutting back on desserts and entrees in favour of healthy meals and salads.

The research also found that a “reputation for quality food” is as motivating a factor in where to dine as affordability.

You really know healthy eating has become a rolled gold profitable trend when one of the world’s largest food marketers, McDonald’s, changes its menus to include salads, as it did in the early part of this decade. It was also the first restaurant to gain the Heart Foundation’s Tick in 2007—a rigorously tested measure of food which is low in saturated fat and has at least one serve of vegetables.

But there are also simpler, more affordable ways to tap into this rich vein of consumer interest in healthier meal choices. One good way, according Steve Sheppard, managing director of Sydney brand strategy company Brand Story, is to highlight the benefits of vegetables.

Sheppard’s company has been working on a major research and strategy project for the Australian vegetable industry.

He says most people know they need to eat more vegetables than they do, but have in-built barriers such as perceiving them as boring or not knowing how to prepare them. This is where the food service industry comes in.

“We all eat out more than we ever did, [but] only one in 10 people believe dining out is for indulgence,” he says.

“The greatest chance to get some [of the five daily] serves is the evening meal, but for too long, veggies have been compared with protein or other carbs and often not integrated to the meal or given as much consideration as meat and wine.”

The huge popularity of Masterchef has shown that Australians are not only interested in food, but they’re sophisticated about it too and are ready to learn what food combinations work, as well as about the nutritional benefits.

Nevertheless, no matter how health conscious, when people are dining out they’re not going to be sold on a meal because it’s likely to protect them against disease.

Sheppard says people are more interested in what the nutritional benefits can achieve right here and right now and “there a whole language that can be constructed around the benefits” that restaurants and cafes can use to promote them.

Heather Jones, strategic research manager at Brand Story, says far from going against the idea of a luxury, vegetables can be integral to indulging all the senses: “Because people are eating out more and more, there’s a feeling that it counts more. They’ve got to have a better balance.”

While we inherently know about the nutritional benefits of various foods, the Government has approved nutritional claims about certain vegetables—for example, round vegetables such as swedes, Brussels sprouts and capsicum are sources of Vitamin B6 and folate, contain potassium and are naturally low in sodium, which help provide calming nutrients for a healthy nervous system.

These benefits can be easily translated into point-of-sale material at a busy café or as table talkers, or even on the menu to pique diners’ interest and give them useful information.

Another example might be creating a dish with specific health benefits such as an “immunity” salad of dark green leaves and red capsicum, which also promotes healthy skin.

No-one has to reinvent the wheel in creating new dishes, but there’s value in being creative and promoting what you already have to a market that’s quite literally hungry for more. Restaurants are increasingly talking about where their ingredients come from, and pointing out the nutritional benefits is just an extension of this kind of customer engagement.

Of course, healthy eating isn’t just about vegetables.

Proprietor of Garfish restaurants in Sydney (Kirribilli, Crows Nest and Manly), Mark Scanlan, says since Garfish launched in 2002, there has been an explosion in the popularity of seafood restaurants and cafés as people search for light and healthy alternatives. He says diners are also much more aware of their diets, allergies and additives, all areas where a restaurant or café can open a dialogue on the quality of types of ingredients that are used.

Garfish executive chef Stewart Wallace says seafood also lends itself to uncomplicated cooking, which can be lighter and healthier.

“Our approach is generally four flavours on a plate and that helps our chefs get success with all their dishes.” He also says the media interest in better nutrition has boosted the popularity of seafood, which he says is at least in part responsible for the boom in Garfish’s business across its three restaurants.

“Crows Nest is probably the most glaring example — its growth has been exponential and we put that down to a lot of things, but it’s primarily people looking for healthy food.”

Wallace says his front-of-house staff at Garfish communicate clearly the techniques and ingredients being used. Its restaurants have cameras in the kitchen so diners can see the chefs at work, and the screens in the restaurant also show information about the species of fish they prepare as well as the nutritional information about fish, such as the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids.

Engaging the staff themselves on the communication of the health benefits is also a technique Garfish uses.

“We go into a lot of detail with our tasting notes and training of our staff. They’re really up-tospeed with the health benefits of seafood,” Wallace says.

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