Tips to avoid the health-conscious ‘veto vote’

By Denis Hancock and Jennifer Gausby
Tips to avoid the health-conscious ‘veto vote’
There are many things restaurants can do to capitalize on Canadians’ desire to live better by eating healthier. The trick is to look beyond the usual tactics, namely reducing calories, sodium or fat by cutting portion sizes; changing sides; and removing great-tasting (but sometimes unhealthy) ingredients.The problem with these types of “healthier” alternatives is that they require consumers to ignore their taste buds – and history has shown many refuse to do so when eating away from home. Here are some ways restaurants can reward those trying to be more health-conscious.

Health without sacrifice

This is about putting taste at the forefront and getting innovative. Simply tweaking regular menu items will not necessarily entice trial – your guests may end up feeling like they’re making a compromise, or that they’re missing out on great-tasting, familiar components.

The Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious initiative is a great example of how to innovate while still keeping menu items – and their descriptions – appealing. The menu offers “a collection of fresh and delicious menu options with lower calories and signature rich taste.” While health is the underlying message, taste is still strongly positioned to pique interest.

There are also certain trade-offs many consumers are happy to make. According to the 2015 BrandSpark Canadian Shopper study, when it comes to bread and meat, more than half of consumers believe the healthier versions (whole wheat/multigrain for bread and extra lean for meat) taste better than traditional/original versions. As a result, these are two categories where customers are open to innovation without worrying that taste will be sacrificed.

Overall, offering healthy menu options through the notion of “health without sacrifice” will leave your guests feeling like they haven’t made any compromises on taste or fulfillment, making it more likely that they’ll come back again for more.

Go natural

While there’s some skepticism around so-called “natural” items — consumers believe it’s a claim that can be exaggerated — the majority appreciate when companies make an effort to make products more natural. An example of a brand that does this well is A&W, which promotes its use of “simple, great-tasting ingredients farmed with care.” The initiative began with their “better beef” campaign and, due to its success, expanded to antibiotic-free chicken and eggs, from farms that use vegetarian feed with no animal by-products. Chipotle’s new focus on “food with integrity” is another great example, underscoring the chain’s belief that there is a “connection between how food is raised and prepared, and how it tastes.” These brands are not alone in this strategy. Many others are following suit – because it’s working.

Put benefits at the forefront

Rather than drawing attention to what’s absent in a particular menu item, restaurants can instead focus on health-related benefits that are present. Claims such as being high in fibre, high in protein and a source of whole grains are of strong importance to many Canadians. Leveraging health claims is an easy and attractive way to communicate benefits to consumers beyond low levels of fat, sodium and calories, and allows for more customization and differentiation on your menu.

BrandSpark recently conducted its own research to determine how to best position and communicate a product’s features and benefits — whether to highlight the negative (ingredients you have removed; a prevention strategy) or the positive (ingredients that are included; a promotion strategy). Both can be successful, but the level of success depends on the values of your target market. By focusing on a promotion strategy, you’re better targeting consumers who are aspirational, which aligns well with those aspiring to live healthier.

Fresh is best, if you can do it

Canadians claim they’re eating more fresh foods than they were a couple of years ago. The main reason they’re doing so is for health, but there’s also a connection to taste.

Overall, offering healthier options can get your current customers to visit more often or for different occasions, and can help you overcome “veto votes” in large groups. It’s no longer enough to simply have healthy options – they also have to taste great or your restaurant may lose out on repeat visits.

See also:

About the author:

Denis Hancock is Director of Consumer Insights and Jennifer Gausby is Marketing Research Manager at BrandSpark International, a leading brand, marketing, and product innovation research company with more than 10 years’ experience in the restaurant industry. For more information, visit

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