As the healthy dining trend continues to gain steam, restaurants are not only competing with each other for consumers’ dining dollars, they also need to consider the growing amount of health-conscious eaters who choose to prepare food at home in order to have control over ingredients and portion size.

Offering a healthy menu with customizable options can help restaurants win these customers back and attract new ones. Crafting a healthy menu doesn’t have to mean a total overhaul, according to Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living at the National Restaurant Association. Dubost said honoring special requests to put dressing on the side or omit bread or chips can go a long way towards making customers feel as if their healthy eating needs are being met. “Along the lines of customization, I think sometimes people are afraid to either request or ask, and I would encourage folks when they go into the restaurant to ask for a special request or modification to what’s listed because a lot of times that can be accommodated,” she said. (read more…)

As it has historically in lean economic times, pasta came to the rescue for many families during the recession, when tighter budgets brought tougher choices at grocery stores and restaurants. The economy, coupled with consumer leanings towards healthy options and ethnic foods, have shaped pasta trends in both restaurants and on grocery store shelves.

Pasta can run the gamut from indulgent mac and cheese to healthy whole wheat penne, and the pantry staple proved an essential part of recession-era meal planning, but now there are signs that the recovery may have some U.S. consumers spending less on pasta, at least when it comes to cooking it at home.

Overall retail pasta sales declined last year after rising each year during the downturn, according to Euromonitor. During the recession, consumers not only bought more pasta but they switched to private-label brands to keep costs down, the report says. Private-label accounted for 23% of pasta sales last year, and the report predicts that many who made the switch will resist trading back up to higher-priced pastas even as their finances improve. (read more…)

Large restaurant brands today are drowning in data but thirsty for meaning. It’s easy for food and beverage directors to feel lost in the vast sea of positive and negative social media reviews about their menus.

To help clarify all this social feedback, newBrandAnalytics (nBA) just released a report highlighting the top beverage trends that are driving guest loyalty. This research shows how restaurants and hotels can use their online feedback, as well as their competitor’s social data, to ride the waves of the latest beverage trends to increase customer loyalty.

 nBA’s experts analyzed 40,000 social media reviews from 100 of the hottest U.S. restaurants, and isolated those mentions that included beverage references. As you’ll see below, we then separated meaningful from non-meaningful insights to identify specific trending beverage flavors that are driving guest loyalty.

So which wines, cocktails, beers and non-alcoholic beverages are sure to bring guests back for more? (read more…)

Counterfeiting of branded goods is growing globally, and losses from counterfeiting cost retailers and manufacturers nearly $1 trillion each year and more than 75,000 jobs in the U.S., according to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“This study pinpoints the opportunities that retailers and manufacturers have to reduce the chance for counterfeit products from reaching shelves and finding their way into consumers’ homes,” said Mark Baum, FMI‘s senior vice president of industry relations and chief collaboration officer. “We must be vigilant about safeguarding our supply chain from counterfeiters and step up our efforts to stop organized retail theft.”

The study, “Brand Protection and Supply Chain Integrity: Methods for Counterfeit Detection, Prevention and Deterrence,” includes guidelines for manufacturers and retailers based on a survey of consumer packaged goods manufacturers across the globe and retailers across the U.S., as well as input from a committee of industry leaders in manufacturing and retailing. (read more…)

Omnivorous consumers had several reasons to rethink their meat-buying habits during the past five or six years, as the recession hit grocery budgets, droughts drove meat prices higher and the federal government replaced the Pyramid with MyPlate, a model for nutrition that calls for veggies to make up at least half of the meal.

The past decade saw the rise of Meatless Mondays and other moves by some chefs to leave meat off the plate entirely at more meals. Meanwhile, food companies and researchers have been working hard to create better plant-based alternatives that taste more like meat, as The New York Times reported last week.

All that said, recent research shows that Americans are still eating plenty of meat, and there’s evidence that the recovery has led to an uptick in spending — home-cooked dinners that included meat or poultry rose from 3.6 per week to 3.8, and 36% of the consumers who changed their meat-buying habits last year spent more than the previous year, according to the ninth annual Power of Meat report from the Food Marketing Institute, the American Meat Institute and The Cryovac Brand. (read more…)