Why healthy and allergen-free menu options matter

Market research firm Technomic found that most people don’t make the healthfulness of a restaurant’s menu a priority. Their recently released The Generation Consumer Trend Report found that when asked, “How often do you choose restaurants based on the healthfulness of their menu?” the following percentages of generations responded with a yes:

  • Millennials 31%
  • Generation X 21%
  • Baby Boomers 18%

Now let’s look at how food allergies and intolerance have affected American’s eating habits. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that almost 1 in 20 younger children under age five and almost 1 in 25 adults are allergic to at least one food. These figures do not include people who have an intolerance, but not a severe or life threatening reaction, to certain foods, such as a lactose intolerance. Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat (gluten).

In addition to people with food allergies or intolerances, some people are choosing to avoid certain foods ingredients for health or other reasons. For example, there is an increase in people going on gluten-free diets. Some reports show that 6% of the American population is on a gluten-free diet, although only a small portion do so to treat Celiac disease.

Regardless of what the exact percentages might be for people seeking healthful (healthful is a real word) and allergen-free meals, they are definitely still in the minority. So any restaurant or family entertainment center, bowling center or location-based entertainment venue that offers food may say, “Why bother trying to cater to them? It’s a lot of work to do so and they are only a minority of customers.” The answer is when you do the math, not for any one person, but for the family and other groups that typically come versus the few single diners, there is a significant multiplier effect. It’s a great way to build a loyal customer base.

Let’s just use gluten-free as an example. If it is a family of four and one person is on a gluten-free diet, then the family is going to choose a dining venue that will meet every one’s dietary requirement. Suddenly, whether your business offers a gluten-free option affects whether 24% of the population choose you versus only 6% - it affects the choice for four times as many people as are on a gluten-free diet. Now let’s look at diners seeking healthful menu options. Let’s say four Generation-X adults are deciding what restaurant to dine at and one wants healthful menu options. Suddenly the 21% of Gen-Xers who want a healthful menu multiplies into affecting the choice of 84% of the population.

Catering to individual dietary needs is no longer an option. It has become an expectation of the dining public. And make sure your website contains all the information on how you can meet their dietary needs in a easy to find location, since today they won’t come without first researching how your business can accommodate their special needs. And be sure that the menus on your website list each and every ingredient and the same information is available in your facility. 

There’s also a number of websites and smart phone apps that list restaurants that have allergen-free menu items such the Gluten Free Registry, Allergy Eats that locates restaurants based on ten different food allergy or intolerances and the smart phone app by Nommunity available on the iTunes store that locates restaurants for consumers specifically looking for the six most common food preferences: gluten-free, organic, locally grown, kosher, vegan and vegetarian.