The food service industry needs to face up to its responsibilities in tackling the global obesity epidemic, according to a new report by Unilever Food Solutions. With one billion overweight adults and a staggering 300 million cases of obesity worldwide, this figure will rise to 1.5 billion by 2015* unless all parties, including the food service industry, take action now.
New findings from the Report highlight that chefs and operators are not meeting their guests’ needs. Guests want the best of both worlds - healthier options on menus 66% and a treat when eating out 72%. However, most healthy options are considered to be less appetizing 43%, too expensive 57% and not very filling 45%.
In November 2010, Unilever set out the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, where one of the main goals was to help more than one billion people improve their health and well-being by 2020. Now over one year into the ten-year plan, Unilever Food Solutions continues to contribute to the successful results gained so far in reaching this bigger goal.
“Unilever Food Solutions is recommending a simple solution to chefs and operators to address this mismatch called ‘Seductive Nutrition’ – a new approach to menu design which nudges guests to choose a healthier option when eating out. The good news for the industry is that this can help make their businesses healthier too,” says Eelco Camminga, Vice President of Unilever Food Solutions - South Africa, Middle East & Pakistan.
Barriers to healthy eating
The 2011 World Menu Report: What’s in Your Food revealed that diners want more nutritional information on menus to help them make an informed, healthy choice when eating out. This new report makes it clear that although diners want healthier alternatives on menus, more than two fifths (43%) of people admit a main drawback in ordering a healthy option is that they believe that healthier dishes sound less tasty when described on a menu.
Apart from this, there appears to be a ‘Nutritional Knowledge Gap’ amongst consumers globally, as 75% were unable to identify the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fat for men and women. This suggests that even though consumers want more nutritional information they don’t always understand how to interpret it in relation to their RDAs.
Globally, a very high proportion of respondents were unable to identify the recommended daily calorie intake for men and women according to nutritional guidelines. At least 75% in all markets did not know what the recommended daily intake of fat was.Knowledge levels vary considerably across markets, with 55% of German respondents getting within 25% of the correct figure of 2000 calories compared to just 18% in South Africa.
For this new study, 5,000 people in 10 countries were presented with a healthy dish described on two menus – the first ‘neutral’ and the second more ‘seductive’. In 90% of the countries surveyed, people were more inclined to choose the dish from the latter menu (i.e. dishes which included descriptor words such as ‘steamed’, ‘succulent’ and ‘fresh’ proved to be more popular with respondents). This underlies Unilever Food Solutions’ call for establishments to ensure that healthier options are described on menus in such a way that they combine taste and appeal e.g. Line-caught steamed trout, spicy, grilled root vegetables with an authentic Italian garlic and olive oil dressing.
But chefs and operators do not need to overhaul their menus in order to deliver ‘Seductive Nutrition’. Rather, diners would like to see their favourite meals adapted so that they are ‘slightly’ healthier than previously. When asked what they thought should be done to make meals healthier, the top six most popular requests were Adding plenty of vegetables; Lowering fat content; Reducing portion sizes; Grilling or baking; Using fresh ingredients and Lowering the calorie content.
One of the champions of healthy eating in the South Africa restaurant industry is Gingko, a thriving establishment in Parkview which bases its entire philosophy on providing good food that gives pleasure to the senses and sustenance to the body.
Owner of Gingko Catherine Speedie says, “In other words, food should be both delicious and nutritious, which restores both body and spirit. We’re in this game because we’re passionate about good food, about health and wellbeing. Our food is prepared using fresh, whole ingredients of the best quality, without preservatives or colour agents, and with as much organic content as possible. Food is essentially handmade the ‘slow food’ way, so that the ingredients get to speak for themselves.”
Organic, free range and locally grown produce is used as much as possible, as are goods produced by small independent farmers. Dairy products and salad greens are mostly organic, salmon is RSPCA certified wild, and red meat, chicken and eggs are all free range, hormone and antibiotic free. Says Camminga: “‘Seductive Nutrition’ is about balancing the health and appeal of your menus. Chefs can still cook their guests’ favourite dishes and just make them healthier. By using a leaner cut of meat and aromatic spices to flavour instead of lots of salt, the dish is just as tasty and satisfying, sounds delicious and is just a little bit healthier.”
What’s the answer?
Unilever Food Solutions is introducing a new ‘Seductive Nutrition’ Service for restaurateurs around the world. The Service gives practical advice and guidance on developing menus to attract and entice old and new customers with healthier dishes, equal in taste, value for money and as filling as more indulgent menu options.
Gaby Vreeken, President Marketing, Unilever Food Solutions, says: “We believe that all of us in the food service industry have a responsibility to tackle the global obesity crisis. The insights from this major new study show that the challenges of encouraging healthier diets can be addressed with small changes to existing menus. In essence, it’s no more than a nudge to help guests choose a healthier option. Small steps can have an enormous impact on the health of diners across the world and help to tackle rising obesity levels.”
Unilever Food Solutions is on hand to help chefs and operators make these changes easily and efficiently. It will be introducing the ‘Seductive Nutrition’ Service to help customers adapt their menus with slightly healthier versions of their favourite dishes, and provide tips on how to ‘seductively’ sell these meals to their guests. Whilst taste and value still often win over health, Unilever Food Solutions believes that they no longer need to be mutually exclusive.
Vreeken continues: “Ultimately, this means that guests get the best of both worlds – their favourite food, but made healthier. By ensuring these dishes are designed to sound and taste as delicious as possible to diners, chefs will be offering healthier food with greater appeal. ‘Seductive Nutrition’ is part of our contribution towards the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goal of helping more than one billion people improve their health and well-being by 2020. We do this by inspiring chefs to create great tasting dishes that are nutritious and healthy. In April we published our One-Year Progress Report, highlighting the successes made so far in our nutrition and sustainability targets. At Unilever Food Solutions, we take this as inspiration as we continue to contribute to these successful results and work towards reaching the bigger goal.”