The growing popularity of healthy, local foods

By Mark Dempsey
January 4, 2016
The growing popularity of healthy, local foods

Keeping up with the latest health trends in the foodservice industry is an ongoing challenge. Fortunately for restaurant operators, consumers’ definition of healthful food has broadened.  Today, it’s less about removing negatives or adding positives, and more about simply eating real food.

Canadians report “healthy” as the number one characteristic they want to see more of on restaurant menus. For some, this means food that has been locally sourced; for others, more wholesome or unprocessed foods are preferred. The bottom line is that consumers are seeking food that is “real.”

Beyond the desire for more “healthy” options, a number of different spices and ethnic flavor profiles are resonating with consumers in this marketplace.

This focus on healthy attributes is an extension of ongoing trends.  For several decades, consumers sought to avoid things in food that were perceived as bad – things such as fat, cholesterol, sugar, and in recent years, gluten. Over time, consumer preference shifted more towards foods with positive attributes like whole grains, increased fibre and anti-oxidants.

Gluten-free losing ground

After nearly five years of consistent growth, the gluten-free food category declined last year, according to The NPD Group. Many Canadians had earlier bought into suggestions that a gluten-free lifestyle could offer health benefits – including weight loss – to anyone.

Foodservice manufacturers responded with a range of gluten-free specialty products, but many consumers may be tiring of the extra effort and cost often required to go gluten-free. For people who have celiac disease, however, gluten-free is no passing fad; it’s a true dietary regimen that they will require for life. Both guests and restaurants alike will continue to benefit from the increased availability of gluten-free products.

Seeking wholesome options

With consumers more informed than ever about what’s good for them, and demands growing for wholesome, unprocessed foods, many restaurants are responding by adding more “real” food options to their menus, while others are launching campaigns to shine a light on existing “real-food” practices.

Two big examples are locally grown foods and the growing popularity of “farm-to-table.” Sustainable food sourcing is becoming increasingly important to Canadians. Local foods provide restaurant operators with the opportunity to be creative with the menu while providing those menu items that consumers are increasingly finding appealing. Locally grown foods need not be used only in traditional Canadian fare; consumers have become considerably more adventurous and are willing to try new flavours and textures.

There is a growing awareness among consumers about not only where their food is from, but how it is raised and processed. All of this has helped to bring farm-to-table not just to homes, but to schools, restaurants and other institutions.

Changing perceptions

While many Canadians still see healthy eating at home as being more important than when dining out, that perception has been changing. More foodservice visitors are also looking to eat healthy when going to their favourite establishment. Operators and manufacturers need to be mindful of this group’s needs and provide more appealing menu items for these customers.

It’s a battle for share within the foodservice industry and a battle for food dollars between in-home and away-from-home dining. In order to grow, foodservice manufacturers and operators need to have a clear understanding of consumer expectations. If they don’t meet them, someone else will.

Understanding the importance of healthy menu offerings, healthy menu drivers, and the target market for healthy eating at foodservice will provide operators and manufacturers with the insight needed to create marketing and product strategies to further grow the healthy eating market.

See also:

About the author:

Mark Dempsey is Director, Foodservice Canada for The NPD Group. The NPD Group has more than 25 years of experience providing reliable and comprehensive consumer-based market information and insights to leaders in the foodservice industry. For more information, visit or contact Mark at

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