How Healthy Is Your Menu? Does It Really Matter?

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 3/13/2019

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  Paul Schlossberg
No matter what products you offer, it's unlikely that you can satisfy everyone. You serve a wide variety of people, taste preferences and dietary needs and expectations.

Your shoppers include folks who are thinner and those who are not – whether below or above their "goal' weight. You have people who prefer to snack all day and those who would rather make meal time their focus. Lots of people these days are on diets – maybe to lose weight or to deal with allergies, religious restrictions, a vegetarian or vegan regime, gluten-free or something else.

Whatever their inclinations are, it's up to you to make them happy. That is challenging enough. Some shoppers want healthier products. Others do not – favoring indulgent products across every menu category. Some people are "lucky" to be able to eat pretty much whatever they want and not gain weight. That last group does not include me.

Many of the locations we serve have been pushing our industry to offer a broader assortment of better-for-you (BFY) food, snacks and beverages. Some of the RFPs we receive include very specific requirements on the number or proportion of BFY SKUs versus "traditional" products.

Fortunately our industry has tools to help you sort through an almost endless selection of products to identify BFY products. Through NAMA there is FitPick, a healthy vending and micromarket labeling program, to help vending operators and consumers identify products that meet recognized nutrition guidelines.

Our industry is not alone in adapting to the increasing demand for BFY products and healthier menu alternatives. You can see it at fast food restaurants and convenience stores, too. A recent New York Times article, "Bigger, Saltier, Heavier: Fast Food Since 1986 in 3 Simple Charts" offers some interesting insights.  

The article notes "…The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics  – even with lighter items in the mix, fast food menus are less healthy than they were 30 years ago." From 1986 to 2016 in the fast food restaurant chains studied, "…the average entree weighed 39 grams (1.37 oz.) more in 2016 (with) 90 more calories. It also had 41.6% of the recommended daily allotment of sodium (versus) from 27.8%."

The packaged food industry, in general, has also upsized packaging.  That is also true for immediate consumption food, snacks and beverages – single-serve products. We can offer a better value for the shopper – based on price per ounce (whether liquid or weight). For the trade, there is usually a higher penny-profit per unit sold. Recalling market research, from almost 30 years ago, when large-size single-serve salty snacks were introduced, unit sales were close to established levels.

Is there a "SO WHAT?" based on what we learned here? The article notes that "…the obesity rate among adults in the United States, which rose to 40% in 2016 from 13% in the early 1960s."

Here is my point-of-view. We have an obligation to the people we serve every day. It is not a simple thing. We should be selling them what they want to buy. We should also be offering them a wider selection of products across the spectrum from indulgent to healthier (BFY).

It's not easy. Do not expect that there will be a one-size fit all solution. Pay careful attention to your product menu. Seek a balance in each category from indulgent to BFY. Make sure that you keep an eye on your best-selling SKUs. Perhaps most important of all is to recognize that there will be significant differences from location to location.

Get smarter about the healthy side of your menu. Do that and do it well and you'll have taken another step on the path to selling more stuff.  



» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at Paul@DFWConsulting.net or (972) 877-2972 or www.DFWConsulting.net.