Here’s something to chew on: Restaurant chains that serve more lower-calorie foods and beverages outperform those that don’t, according to a study released last month by the Hudson Institute.
The report, titled Lower-Calorie Foods: It’s Just Good Business, analyzed 21 of the largest restaurant chains, including Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Chili’s, and Outback Steakhouse. Tracked over a five-year period, the operators that increased lower-calorie servings had better sales growth, greater increases in customer traffic and stronger gains in total food and beverage servings than chains whose servings of lower-calorie options declined.
Considering that few chain restaurants are known for their figure-friendly fare, it’s intriguing that low-cal foods and beverages have been the growth engine for the restaurants that offer them, at least among the eateries studied.
The takeaway for restaurants is that lighter eating is more than a seasonal practice—as in people looking to work off holiday weight gain or get fit for swimsuit season—or just a fad. Consumers are slowly starting to change the way they eat, at home and when dining out, and at the very least they want options—more low-calorie entrees, smaller portions, tapas-like offerings, and so on.
The same goes for beverages, as our feature “Skinny Sipping” on page 46 points out. Hotel chain Columbia Sussex says that skinny cocktails have increased its specialty drink sales by 15%. And The Melting Pot’s low-calorie cocktail promotion was such a hit last summer that the fondue chain has added two of the most-popular skinny drinks to the core beverage menu.
So low-cal offerings are becoming part of the main menu—food and drink—and they present a huge opportunity to operators. Restaurants that recognize and address the shift will entice more customers and continue to grow their businesses.
Speaking of growth, our cover story reveals our exclusive lists of the fastest-growing wine and spirit brands in the U.S. Given the greater competition in brands and offerings today, increasing and maintaining growth rates is no small accomplishment.
This issue also includes the next installment of our series on California wines on page 22, and a look at trends in imported beer (page 49). And our B2B column on page 54 addresses the common cocktail conundrum of shaking vs. stirring. (Yes, we blame James Bond for causing the confusion.)
Melissa Dowling, Editor