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National Restaurant Association - 5 nutrition trends that rocked the NRA Show

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5 nutrition trends that rocked the NRA Show

As more consumers ask for allergen-free, vegan or vegetarian foods, and lower-fat and dairy-free options, healthful alternatives abounded at the NRA Show. Here are five nutrition trends that created buzz this year:

Gluten free options

Catering to customers who are celiac or gluten-sensitive is growing steadily, and restaurateurs are offering gluten-free options to stay competitive. “Gluten free is becoming a permanent segment of the customer base, and restaurateurs are realizing they have to be accessible to everyone,” said Peter Robertson, founder of RP’s Pasta Co., which makes gluten-free pasta products. “If guests are walking in your doors, you’ve already done a good job, but if they can’t order anything on your menu, that’s a problem.”

Jimmy DeSisto, president of Venice Bakery in Los Angeles, which makes gluten-free pizza, wraps, flatbreads and breadcrumbs, said the products are here to stay. “I don’t think there’s been a category that’s hit as hard, fast and furious as gluten free has. The demand is there. The way it’s taken the food industry by storm is overwhelming.” Don’t base the success of gluten free on one SKU in your POS system, he said. “Take a look at everything else wrapped around it on the sales tape.”

Vegan/vegetarian entrees

Consumers are adding meatless items to their diets because of health factors, lifestyle changes or even religious reasons. Because of the shift, restaurateurs are looking for more ways to accommodate the choice. “Meatless options, and particularly vegan items, are trending right now,” said John Williams of VegeUSA, manufacturer of a low-fat, healthful line of entrée items. “Our food is particularly aimed at people who have given up meat or chicken or pork because they’ve had to, but miss their mouth feel and taste profile.” Made from soy protein, the items come “naked” or prepared in Asian, Thai or Eastern flavored sauces. The health and sustainable aspects of the products are undeniable, he says. “They’re plant based, so they’re more healthful, and they sustain agriculture, too. They also taste pretty close to the real thing.”

Lean beef breakfast alternatives

Restaurateurs are looking to offer lower-fat, higher protein alternatives for breakfast, said Howard Bender, founder of Schmaltz Retail Products. The company’s bacon alternative, called Schmacon, is made of whole muscle beef and is lower in sodium, calories and fat than pork bacon. “People are demanding cleaner labels and more natural items. That’s forcing manufacturers like me to make products we still want to eat, but are created without nitrates and are all natural,” he says. “This trend is growing, and … in three or four years, it will be a predominant focus, mainstream.”

Soup’s on

Operators are seeking more healthful, organic soups, and the options seem plentiful. “Organic soup is a growing trend in restaurants right now,” said Boulder Organic! Foods’ Jen-ai Stokesbary. “Folks perceive soup as more healthful than other menu options, and in many cases they are. They generally tend to have less fat, are water based so they’re hydrating, and are satiating at the same time." Bonus: "Soup is healthful, comforting, convenient and affordable.”

Child-friendly nutritional items

Healthful options targeting kids were top of mind this year. “Kids are one of the largest growing demographics,” said Gerry Rekas, research and development chef for Tofurky, maker of meatless protein items. “Kids are now telling their parents they want to eat healthier items." To meet that demand, the company developed Tofurky Pockets, which come in pizza, broccoli and cheddar, and barbecued chicken flavor. The products are made from a wheat gluten and organic tofu. “They mimic meat quite well. This is not your grandmother’s tofu. It gives the experience of eating meat and is beneficial for your health.”

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