In the past few years, you will likely have noticed a shift in discourse used when talking about health and nutrition. Whereas before we were endeavouring to maintain a ‘balanced diet’ or one that is low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb… recently we have seen the rise of the heroic ‘superfoods’. Allegedly forged in the U.S., the superfood revolution has seen a rise in demand for certain nutritious ingredients.
Whilst it might seem as though this was a fashion born overnight, super-nutritious ingredients have been increasingly incorporated into products for many years. While working as an analyst for blue-chip soft drinks brands, I observed a shift from carbonated drinks as a dominating force to the flourishing of juices – not from concentrate, of course. Over the years, claims to provide a good source of vitamin C, vitamin D, fibre and more grew throughout the beverage industry. Mintel, in fact, says that there has been a 202% increase in the number of new food and drink products containing the term “superfood”.
Whether you buy into the trend or not, it is clear that this is one that is not going anywhere. So, how can bars and restaurants harness the appeal of superfoods, and what are successful venues already doing to up-sell superfoods?
What are superfoods?
‘Superfoods’ come in many forms, and are present in almost every food group. Whether it be quinoa, spirulina, moringa or baobab, these ingredients are all deemed to wield special nutritious qualities that can boost the health above and beyond the abilities of the simple loaf of bread or apple. Consumers are encouraged to incorporate superfoods into their diet in order to increase their energy levels, improve their hair and skin, help them get fit, boost their immune or digestive system, and even lift their mood.
Of course, the element of naturalness is stressed in the marketing of superfoods. Ingredients must be organic, locally-sourced and, preferably, raw in order to give the best results. The majority of superfoods are fruits, vegetables and pulses, or products derived from these. A few favourites of the moment to consider incorporating into your menu are:
Blueberries – full of fibre, vitamin C and, allegedly, cancer-fighting compounds.
Kale – contains large amounts of antioxidants, as well a fibre, calcium and magnesium.
Chia seeds - contain the most essential fatty acids of any known plant! They are also full magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Green tea – full of antioxidants and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCC), thought to prevent irregular cell growth.
Broccoli – packed with vitamins, minerals and fibres, with its high vitamin C and folate content thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes.
Salmon – contains plenty of omega-3, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve the skin.
Turmeric – this highly anti-inflammatory substance is believed by scientists to help prevent cancer if cooked with regularly.
Beetroot – full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to strengthen vital organs. The betalains that make the beetroot purple could also ward off degenerative diseases.
Garlic – can be used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease and even infections.
Ginger - used for health reasons for centuries, ginger can help cure colds, stomach complaints and inflammation.
Cacao – has 40 times the antioxidants than blueberries, is the highest plant-based source of iron and even more calcium than cow’s.
There is, as you might expect, significant debate among scientists and nutritionists as to whether certain foods can actually directly yield these kinds of benefits. Either way, their popularity remains and only seems set to grow in the coming years.
How restaurants are flaunting superfoods
As Nation’s Restaurant News notes, “even the quick-service burger giants offer healthful menu items these days, it’s harder for restaurants to stand out from the crowd with foods that will excite the growing numbers of health-conscious customers.” Go to almost any restaurant and you will see sections of the menu that offer ‘light bites’, ‘guilt-free’ options and even more specific accommodations, such as gluten- and sugar-free alternatives. These inclusions have become less a thing of caveat and more a consciously attractive feature that smart restaurants are capitalising on to dramatically increase their customer base.
Even less health-orientated mass-market or quick-service businesses have taken a tentative seat on the superfood bandwagon, with outlets like Starbucks offering lightly more wholesome options. The coffee franchise now offers a ‘Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal’, which includes oats, rolled oats, fresh blueberries, and an optional fruit, nut, and seed medley topping.
Think the ‘Classic Super Food Salad’ at Jamie’s Italian, which boasts “a super-fresh combination of avocado, roasted beets, mixed pulses and grains, sprouting broccoli, pomegranate and spicy seeds with harissa dressing and cottage cheese”. Dishes like this take the gestural healthy salad option to a new level, actively appealing to diners – even those who are not following a strict no-carb or plant-based diet. Indeed, the salad section of the menu itself is named ‘Super food salads’. It is clear that this niche is being concertedly plugged by the successful Italian chain restaurant. The first step, then, is simply stating that your healthy dishes fall under the ‘superfood’ label.
However, there are countless opportunities available to increase your clientele through the savvy marketing of superfoods.
How to up-sell superfoods (and drinks)
John Martin, CEO of smoothie company Daily Juice, told QSR Magazine why superfoods are so important to their business: “We use superfoods consistently to be the most densely nutritious, natural product ingredients we can add to juices, smoothies, and entrées,” says John. “Superfoods add to the nutritional profile of our products [and are] so densely packed that just a little goes a long way.” This makes smoothies and juices one of the easiest ways to offer customers high-quality superfood options. A simple bottled apple or orange juice is a thing of the past – guests now want to sip on fresh blends featuring ginger, carrot, kale and many more nutritious ingredients.
Daily Juice also demonstrates how superfoods can be added in small amounts to avoid a dramatic alteration to the flavour of the item, but the appealing health boost is still there. Chia seeds, for example, have very little flavour, so can be packed into smoothies for maximum effect. However, others have a rather strong taste profile. Martin explains, “You just don’t nibble on spirulina. Some are strong and need to be mixed with other ingredients so you get the benefits of the superfood in a great flavour”. Anyone who has tried a delicious matcha latte at their local coffee shop, bought some organic matcha and tried to brew their own with the recommended quantities will know that treating such strong ingredients like normal foods doesn’t always succeed. Instead, subtlety is key.
However, whilst the actual proportion of certain superfoods in dishes may be minimal, they should not be marketed as such. Superfoods must be positioned as a central factor in order to catch the eye of guests, and must be consciously up-sold. Emphasising superfoods as quality, organic ingredients will make these dishes or beverages stand out, and will allow them to be sold at a slightly higher price-point.
Even venues such as bars (not usually the domain of the strict health fiend) can benefit from the incorporation of superfoods. Those who wish to enjoy a delicious cocktail with a twist will be delighted to see healthy ingredients as part of certain beverages, whether it be green tea martinis or cacao nibs served with gin. This will certainly leave visitors feeling markedly more fulfilled in their alcohol choices (and may even help prevent a hangover!)
Keeping the potential for customisation is also an important element. Not only does each consumer have their own tastes, the health-conscious among them will also have their own nutritional needs and will be very aware of which superfoods to eat to get them. Those looking for a complexion boost, for example, may choose a kale side dish for its vitamin D, followed by a dessert with blueberry compote to get that fix of vitamin C. The availability of various side dishes or additional extras and substitutions is the best way to cater to these forward-thinking customers.
Image credits: Marco Verch (Flickr)