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Clean Foods, Whole Foods, and Menu Opportunities

Consumers are gravitating toward “clean” foods, but what exactly does “clean” mean?

As consumers become more educated about ingredient terms and how food is grown, demand is trending back to a simpler way of eating, meaning foods in simpler, whole form. According to Mintel’s 2016 trends forecast, “artificial” is public enemy No. 1, as “consumer demands for natural and ‘less processed’ food and drink are forcing companies to remove artificial ingredients.”

What is natural? That’s a good question. The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t developed a definition. However, the word may be used to describe meat and poultry products if they meet all four of the following criteria: 

  • Products have no artificial ingredients. 
  • Products have no coloring ingredients. 
  • Products have no chemical preservatives. 
  • Products contain ingredients that are only minimally processed.

Foods that fit these criteria include fruits and veggies, legumes, and fresh cuts of meat.

“Clean” foods are getting a lot of buzz in the media, so it’s important for you to be familiar with the term and what it means.

Why go “clean”

While there’s no official definition for “clean” foods, the implication is that the closer a food product is to its whole, original form, the better it is for you. Consumers scan labels, looking for a short list or familiar, easily identifiable ingredients. For example: They may choose products that get their hue from fruit extracts versus ones that use artificial colors. The trend is about getting back to the basics of wholesome, less-processed foods, something operators should keep in mind when creating their menus.

“Clean” up your menu

To serve customers accordingly, examine your list of items and their ingredient content. That should tell you right away which items are highly processed and where you might consider alternative ingredients or recipes. Quick, easy wins include making sauces, gravies and marinades from scratch.  

Also, take a look at the meat you’re buying. You may not realize some could be injected with sodium solutions, hormones, antibiotics and/or nitrates. Buying organic meat would ensure the product does not contain antibiotics, GMOs, and that no pesticides were used during the growing process. Some consider grass-fed animals to be in this category.  

The surge of veg-centric eating also is an easy win when examining vegetable offerings on your menu. Offering vegetables in whole form such as portobello mushroom “steaks,” stuffed bell peppers with quinoa, caramelized cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts speaks to the trend and probably will for several years to come. 

And don’t forget the beverages. Moving away from overly sweetened beverages to products that promote simple ingredients and natural flavors is definitely part of the whole, clean movement. 

Spread the word

Once you know the details of your menu and how you may adjust it, the next step is to advertise it. You could have the “cleanest” menu on the planet but customers won’t know unless you tell them. Also, it’s a great time to note whether you buy any local food, or what your stance is on the environment. This builds trust with consumers looking for transparency. If you’re going the extra mile to select organic, natural meats, make sure your customers know. You may communicate this in several ways: in the the menu item description, with a symbol next to the item, or with a paragraph that specifies where and how you buy your food. 

We can help

Ask your Customer Development Specialist for help identifying clean-food products and for marketing support in promoting them.