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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Trends

TRENDS: Restaurant Produce

Many of us who love to cook get ideas from creative restaurant chefs. It’s their job to present new and different preparations to tempt customers.

It could be as simple as produce (NB the onslaught of kale, first in restaurants, then in our homes). What’s next?

Nation’s Restaurant News polled nearly 1,300 chefs in its annual What’s Hot survey. The chefs pointed to produce that distinguishes them from their competitors and gives them cred for sourcing specialty items. Here are what they see as the top produce trends for 2015.

LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE

Consumers like to see locally grown produce on the menu. It shows support for the community, an appreciation for seasonality and reduction of carbon miles, the extra fuel required to the transport food from farther distances. It is the top trend noted by the chefs in the survey.

 

chervil-bunch-www.herbtable.com-230

Easy for home cooks: Try chervil instead of parsley. Photo courtesy HerbTable.com.

 
ORGANIC PRODUCE

Americans have growing awareness of the desirability of organic produce—fruits and vegetables raised without artificial pesticides or fertilizers. “Organic” on a menu is well received (even when consumers don’t buy organic produce for their own kitchens); and all-organic chains such as Sweetgreen are finding success.
 

UNUSUAL HERBS

It’s time to think beyond parsley. Chefs with classical French training are turning to chervil as a garnish, Mexican restaurants are wrapping more foods in hoja santa and Japanese chefs are using kinome, leaves of the sansho/Szechuan pepper plant.

 
HEIRLOOM FRUIT

Heirloom apples, grown from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation, are making a comeback. Heirloom foods fell out of favor because they are more difficult to grow, more expensive and/or other reasons that made farmers turn to other varieties—even if those varieties are less flavorful. You can look for heirloom varieties in your local farmers market. Ask the farmer to point them out.

 
EXOTIC FRUIT

Chefs have a growing interest in fruit that’s a little out of the ordinary. It could be açaí and goji berries added to fruit beverages and fruit salads, or desserts made with Asian pear or dragon fruit.

What’s your favorite fruit or veggie trend?

  

Comments

TRENDS: Restaurant Focus For 2015

orange-peel-lolalovesgreen-230r

No more waste: In restaurant kitchens, everything can have a second life. Citrus peel
is turned into marmalade. Photo courtesy Lola Loves Green.

 

What are the top culinary concerns for restaurateurs this year?

According to a survey by Nation’s Restaurant News, the top five focus on gluten-free and sustainability.

1. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

Safeguarding natural resources is a growing concern across the globe, and the number one culinary issue cited in a survey of American chefs. It’s not just with fine dining: Fast casual concepts like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Sweetgreen have been on the bandwagon since their inception. Chipotle recently stopped serving pork when it couldn’t find enough sustainable meat!

 
2. NATURAL INGREDIENTS/MINIMALLY PROCESSED FOODS

“Clean” labels and minimally processed food appeal to more and more customers. Chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association named natural ingredients and minimally processed food as a major theme. Last year, fast food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s took the concept mainstream, adding an all-natural burger to the menu. Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts have responded to consumer complaints by doing away with additives.
 
3. HYPERLOCAL SOURCING

Locally sourced and house-grown food are becoming more and more important to customers. “Hyperlocal” fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown in restaurant gardens. Some restaurants have beehives as well. We’ve even seen chickens strutting around rooftops (fresh eggs!).

 
4. FOOD/WASTE REDUCTION MANAGEMENT

Food costs are rising and consumers are growing more concerned about how what they eat affects the planet. Both have become major concerns among the dining public.

Chefs are practicing more “root-to-stem” cooking, the logical next step to “nose-to-tail” cooking, in which restaurants utilize the entire animal (or vegetable). It’s an effective way to avoid waste and manage costs.

Chefs have long used bits and scraps—in soups, chicken salad and so forth. But now, they’re making marmalade from citrus skins and bitters from plum and peach pits. This parallels the new law in Seattle, which as of January 1st ordered no more food waste in the garbage. Instead, residents are expected to recycle and compost.

5. GLUTEN-FREE CUISINE

Fewer than 7% of Americans are sensitive to gluten; about 1% of people worldwide suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten consumption can cause life-threatening intestinal damage.

Yet, 63% of Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports said they believed following a gluten-free diet would improve their physical or mental health*. About a third of those said they buy gluten-free products or try to avoid gluten.

Gluten-free cuisine was the culinary theme chefs pointed to fifth most often in the NRA survey. Restaurants are responding with a growing array of gluten-free options, including gluten-free burger buns.

 
*Note that no scientific studies to date confirm or deny a positive impact of gluten-free diets among condition-free consumers.

  

Comments

TRENDS: What’s Hot in 2015

banh-mi-vegetarian-melissasbook-230

Bánh-mi, a Vietnamese submarine sandwich
on a baguette. Photo courtesy The Great
Pepper Cookbook
by Melissa’s Produce.

 

Nation’s Restaurant News, the major trade paper and website for those in the restaurant industry, reports that Americans are becoming more interested in trying new ethnic foods—especially (but not surprisingly) in restaurants.

What “ethnic” means varies from person to person. The NRA commented that the three most popular ethnic cuisines in the U.S.—Mexican, Italian and Chinese—have become so mainstream that they hardly count as “ethnic” these days.

Based on a survey of nearly 1,300 chefs, the NRA pinpointed five ethnic flavors and cuisines that it expects to see this year.

If you live in a major city like Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco (among others), you probably don’t have to go too far to try these. But if you haven’t had them, plan an “eating safari” for your next big city visit.

Here’s the full article by Bret Thorn.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIAN CUISINE

Southeast Asian cuisine was the fifth most frequently cited ethnic trend by chefs. While a full Vietnamese menu is a delightful alternative to Chinese cuisine, the trendiest item these days is the Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich.

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese version of a submarine sandwich made on a Vietnamese-style baguette (made with both wheat and rice flour). It can be vegetarian—pickled carrots, daikon and onions, for example—or include tofu or meat. Here’s a recipe.

PERUVIAN CUISINE

Peruvian food was the ethnic cuisine chefs pointed to fourth most frequently. Chefs at independent restaurants frequently offer ceviche, a raw seafood dish cured in a marinade, as an appetizer. Here’s a template to make your own custom recipe at home.

 

REGIONAL ETHNIC CUISINE

As restaurant customers become increasingly interested in learning about their food, calling something simply “Italian” or “Mexican” is not enough. Pinpointing exactly where in a foreign country a specific dish was created can add to its appeal. The chefs surveyed pointed to regional ethnic cuisine as the third most frequently cited ethnic trend.

Consider Hunam or Szechuan Chinese cuisine versus Cantonese; Venetian and Sicilian versus Tuscan Italian. Every country is divided into regions, each with its own delicious cuisine.
 
AUTHENTIC ETHNIC CUISINE

“Authentic” is a term that can mean as many things as “ethnic. The chefs surveyed pointed to the terms used together as the second most frequently cited ethnic trend. Unvarnished, unchanged dishes from foreign lands bring the true experience to the diner. Foodies don’t want their food dumbed down for “American palates.”
 
ETHNIC FUSION CUISINE

 

ceviche-scallop-shells-raymiNYC-230r

A trio of different ceviche recipes. Photo courtesy Raymi | NYC.

The number one trend has to do with the delight so many people take in mashups from different cultures. Recent hits include the cronut, the cheeseburger burrito and the ramen burger; although the concept applies to fine cuisine as well.

  

Comments

PRODUCT: Cake In A Jar

Way back in 2009, we discovered the excellent cake in a jar from Yummy Cupcakes in Los Angeles. It became a Top Pick Of The Week, and one of those products that, years later, we still pine for, remembering every spoonful.

The trend was slow in starting. After five years, in the past week we’ve received notice of two more cake in a jar products.

DUFF’S CAKEMIX

The Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman, has a custom bakery in Baltimore, a line of cake mixes and cake decorating accoutrements sold nationwide, and most recently, a bakery café, Duff’s Cakemix, also in L.A., which includes a studio where Duff wannabes can decorate their own cakes.

The bakery offers an array of freshly baked sweets, including Dinkies (Duff’s version of Twinkies) and Cake in a Jar.

The latter presents an opportunity to send a special occasion “slice” of cake in a Mason jar, which keeps it moist and fresh for five days (not that there will be any left by then).

So gift challenges are solved: You can send cake in a jar as a birthday gift, or to celebrate any occasion. There’s currently a seasonal red, white and blue Star Spangled Cake In A Jar.

   

confetti-cake-duffscakemix-230

Confetti Cake is sweet and celebratory. Photo courtesy Duff’s Cakemix.

 
You can buy them in two, four or six units, and in two sizes: 8 ounces ($14 for two jars) or 16 ounces ($20 for two jars). The eight-ounce size is more than enough, but the larger size will keep for five days and affords the opportunity for continuous celebration.

Flavors include Chocolate With Chocolate Buttercream and Chocolate Chips, Confetti With Vanilla Buttercream, Marble With Chocolate And Vanilla Buttercream and Vanilla With Vanilla Buttercream.

We received a sample of the Confetti With Vanilla Buttercream. The confetti says “celebrate”; the recipe was a bit on the sweet side for us, but should be just the thing most American palates are looking for.

Order them online at DuffsCakemix.com.

 

jar-open-chicagocake-230

Skip the wedding cake; almost everyone will
prefer cake in a jar. Photo courtesy Chicago-
Cake.com.

 

CAKE CHICAGO

We then received news that one of our favorite artisan bakers, Cake Chicago, is selling cake in a jar.

Cake Chicago began life as a wedding cake specialist, subsequently branching out into daily treats like cookies, bars and chocolate truffles.

So it’s no surprise that their cake in a jar achieves a higher standard. Just look at the elegant layers in the jar, perfectly fitted.

We’d give these as wedding favors and serve a dessert that most guests will prefer to wedding cake. As you can see in the photos, the perfectly-fitted layers and make an excellent presentation.

Like Duff’s, the jars can be wrapped in grosgrain ribbon, and tags can be added for quantity orders.

 
Flavors include:

  • White buttermilk cake with raspberry conserve and Italian meringue buttercream
  • Chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel filing
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese filling
  • Banana cake with fudge filling
  •  
    The price is the same as Duff’s: $7.00, with a two jar minimum (8 ounce size only). Order online at Cake-Chicago.com.

    And if anyone out there wants to send us a gift: More cake in a jar, please! It’s a happy way to enjoy a nice piece of cake.

      

    Comments

    TRENDS: How America Likes To Grill

    beef-kabobs-artichokes-SLT-230

    Tip: Skewer kabobs with sprigs of rosemary
    for instead of conventional skewers. Photo
    courtesy Sur La Table.

     

    To capture consumer trends around grilling and barbecuing, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) conducts the biannual HPBA Barbecue Lifestyle, Usage & Attitude Study. Here are highlights from the 2014 State of the Barbecue Industry Report, which are based on data gathered in August 2013.

    Reigniting the Spark: Outdoor Cooking Still Hot

  • Eighty percent of households own an outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker.
  • Nearly all (97%) of grill owners used their grill in the past year.
  • The majority of grill owners (60%) use their grills year-round.
  • Sixty-one percent of households own a grill own a gas grill, followed by charcoal (41%) and electric (10%).
  • Nearly half (45%) of grill purchasers bought a replacement grill last year, with 29% buying an additional grill.
  •  
    Grill Usage: Consumers Loves to Grill Year-Round

  • The major summer holidays top the list of the most popular grilling days: the Fourth of July (68%), Memorial Day (52%) and Labor Day (51%).
  • Winter holidays saw an increase in grilling over 2011: Super Bowl Sunday (31%), Easter (18%), Thanksgiving (15%) and New Year’s Eve/Day (15%). Grilling Thanksgiving meals outdoors is increasingly popular.
  • Nearly half (49%) of grill owners see their outdoor grilling area as a functional cooking area of their home; more than a quarter (30%) see it as entertainment area and 21% see it as a place to rest and relax.
  • Thirty-seven percent of consumers have a large, moveable grill system on a modest patio/deck, with some outdoor furniture and an informal place to eat.
  • Consumers say an easy ignition system (49%) and large grilling surface (39%) are the most important features of a gas grill, followed by ease of cleaning (35%), quality of construction (32%) and ability to heat up quickly (29%).
  •  

  • Owners of gas (42%) and charcoal (34%) grills view the color of the grill as a major purchasing factor, a 38% increase from 2011.
  • When entertaining using a barbecue grill, gas grill owners use their grill an average of 12 times a year, electric grill owners 12 times a year and charcoal grill owners 11 times a year.
  •  
    Tasty Trends: It’s All About the Meat

  • Meats, including hot dogs (72%), steak (71%), burgers (69%), and chicken parts (64%), top the list of the most popular foods prepared using a grill.
  • Grill owners believe that food cooked on their grills rather than their ovens is more healthful (38%), while 57% believe it is just as healthful.
  • Nearly three out of four consumers (74%) who cook on a gas grill normally use barbecue sauce for basting during cooking.
  • Dry meat rubs remain popular among consumers, with 33% using them more often than not.
  •  

    chicken-grill-tongs-SLT-230

    Treat yourself to extra-long tongs. These are from Sur La Table.

     

    Household Roles: Male or Female, Everybody Grills

  • The male head most often makes the decision to cook (62%), lights the grill (73%) and does the cooking (68%).
  • Whether male or female, nearly 78% of consumers cooking on the grill consider themselves to be “extremely proficient” or “proficient in most situations.”
  • Across the board, males are most likely to make the decision to purchase a grill (66%).
  •   

    Comments

    TRENDS: Chicken Up, Seafood, Pork & Beef Down

    shifting-appetites-trends-chart-wsj-500

    Chart courtesy The Wall Street Journal.

     
     

    While Americans are aware of the need to improve their diets, there’s been a decline in consumption of one of the healthiest food choices: fish.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, the average U.S. consumer ate:

  • 82 pounds of chicken
  • 57 pounds of beef
  • 46 pounds of pork
  • 14.4 pounds of seafood, down from 15 pounds in 2011 and a record high of 16.6 pounds consumed in 2004 (by comparison, the average Japanese consumer eats 120 pounds a year, while Spaniards consume 96 pounds)
  •  
    As you can see from the chart, chicken—affordable and versatile—is the big winner in growth, and the higher-calorie, higher cholesterol beef and pork have experienced some decline. But while the overall category experienced positive gains, the decline in per capita consumption is down.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s a combination of higher prices (quality fresh fish is $15 or more a pound while fresh whole chicken is 10% of that) and consumer hesitance, because they don’t know how to cook fish properly (and at those prices, who wants overcooked fish?).

    Is help on the horizon? Maybe not: The seafood industry is much more fragmented than the beef and pork industries, which organized major marketing campaigns to promote their products.

    Here’s a tip: Although it’s a treat, you don’t need to pay top dollar for fresh fish. Look for values in frozen fish and stock up. Defrost it slowly in the fridge.

    After all, if you order fish at restaurant chains, it’s likely frozen—and few people know the difference.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

    Salted caramel hot chocolate. Photo courtesy Starbucks.

     

    What’s trending in hot chocolate? Salted chocolate caramel hot chocolate or cocoa (here’s the difference between hot chocolate and cocoa).

    We’ve seen prepared drinks and/or mixes from Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Williams-Sonoma. But you can try your hand making it from scratch at home:

    RECIPE: SALTED CARAMEL HOT CHOCOLATE

    Ingredients For 2 Servings (Mugs)

  • 16 ounces milk (for an extra-rich version, use half and half)
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces chocolate caramels, chopped-or-caramel syrup*
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Whipped cream for garnish
  • Optional garnish: caramel and/or chocolate syrup†
  •  
    *The caramels create a thicker, richer drink than the caramel syrup.
    †The syrup has visual appeal, but the drink is plenty sweet without it.
     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT half the milk and all the chopped chocolate in a small pot over medium heat until the chocolate is melted, whisking regularly. Whisk in the remaining milk and the chopped caramels, and continue whisking until the all the chocolate and caramel are dissolved.

    ALTERNATIVE: Instead of using chopped caramels, add 2 tablespoons of caramel syrup to each mug. Add the hot chocolate and stir.

    2. GARNISH with with whipped cream, drizzle optional caramel syrup and top with a pinch of sea salt.

    3. TWEAK the recipe until you have your ideal. We prefer a less sweet drink, so we use chocolate with a cacao content of 70% or higher (the higher the percentage of cacao, the less sugar in the chocolate). We also like the salt stirred into the hot chocolate, instead of on top of the whipped cream. We had some fine chocolate salt caramels on hand and used them instead of supermarket-variety chocolate caramels. They are ideal for this recipe, but a pricey way to enjoy the caramels! The intrepid among us can make chocolate salt caramels from scratch with this recipe.

    Let us know what your “perfect recipe” is.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Why Your Favorite Food Products Are Discontinued

    This week we received an email from a reader asking what happened to Bibi Caffe, a line of elegant, imported Italian sodas we reviewed in 2007.

    She wanted to know why the line was no longer sold in the USA, and asked if there was “any way to get it at all?”

    If “at all” includes taking a trip to Italy to bring it back, there is a solution. Otherwise, Bibi Caffe joined the ranks of products, imported as well as American-made, that are discontinued by stores.

    Here’s why products are discontinued:

    1. The biggest problem manufacturers have is getting shelf space for their products. There are 20,000 new supermarket products introduced every year. Where will they fit?

    The 20,000 new products include variations of existing brands, such as Chocolate Flavored Instant Cream Of Wheat cereal and the latest flavor of Diet Coke, as well as more niche products. (We once came across Brown Sugar Sweet & Low).

     

    Bibi Caffe Italian soft drinks are packed with flavor and not too sweet. Photo by B.A. Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.

     

    2. It has nothing to do with how good (or mediocre) the product is. As the expression goes, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” To maximize profit, retailers need to optimize their shelf space, which includes inventory turns (the reorder rate or other measure) and profit margins. A product that turns stays on the shelf. A product that doesn’t turn fast enough can be discontinued to provide space for a product that will hopefully turn more (and generate more sales and profits).

    Products that don’t meet sales goals are discontinued by the manufacturer. So even if something sells well in your area, if it isn’t as popular elsewhere, it may be discontinued.

    3. Manufacturers pay to be on the shelves of chain supermarkets. These fees are called slotting allowances, and every product pays them—even the most popular products. The fees vary greatly depending on the product, manufacturer and market. But for a new product, the initial slotting fee can be $25,000 per item at a regional chain, or five times that for a large chain. And that fee is for one item in one chain!

    In addition to slotting fees, retailers may also charge promotional, advertising and stocking fees. Unfortunately, the whole system works against small manufacturers that don’t generate the volume to pay such fees, and don’t have the marketing muscle to promote their products to create the volume.

    Thanks to the Internet, small manufacturers can sell from their websites. But Biba Caffe is imported and the glass bottles are heavy to ship. Even if the company sold it online, only moguls would pay to have it shipped from Italy.

    WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

  • If you really love something, become an evangelist. Tell everyone. Email your friends. Add it to your Facebook page. Blog about it. Tweet it. Start a grassroots movement to generate initial purchases, and hope that everyone loves (and buys it) it as much as you do.
  • Pitch it to the buyer at a specialty food store. Specialty stores (also called gourmet stores), such as Bi-Rite in San Francisco, Dean & Deluca in New York City and Fox & Obel in Chicago, delight in introducing new products to their customers.
  • Generate some publicity for it. If you can buy the product, see what you can do to get it some attention. This is similar to the first point, but it takes substantially more effort—unless you’re a food publicist with a list of every food reporter and producer.
  • Contact the company. If you can no longer find a product, contact the manufacturer, who should be able to tell you if and where it can be found.
     
    And appreciate that, like fresh flowers, some things are ephemeral. Enjoy them while they last.

      

  • Comments

    EATING TRENDS: What Type Of Eater Are You?

    Are you an experimental eater? If so,
    this tuna tartare topped with wasabi-tobiko
    and salmon caviars might be just up
    your alley. Photo by | IST.

     

    What type of eater are you?

    According to a national survey conducted by LivingSocial.com, we’re not the carnivores that we were a generation ago. In those days, before global cuisines and health foods (even yogurt) were widely available in the U.S., most people would have seen themselves as meat lovers.

    Nowadays, when asked to choose (multiple categories could be selected), responders revealed themselves to be:

  • Meat Lover: 45%
  • Experimental: 35%
  • Foodie: 25%
  • Sweet Tooth: 21%
  • Fast Food Junkie: 19%
  • Health Nut: 18%
  • Locavore: 11%
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: 5%
  • Food Trucker: 4%
  •  

    Responders were consumers in the top 20 media markets, 18 years of age or older, who had made an online purchase or were “very likely” to make one within the next six months (online purchases include social media coupons).

      

    Comments

    NEWS: Americans Making Better-For-You Food Choices At Restaurants

    We met our brother for lunch this weekend at California Pizza Kitchen.

    As we both ordered from what we considered to be the “better-for-you” salad menu, Brother, an attorney, looked at the small print.

    “Yikes,” he said, “My Cobb Salad has 941 calories. I thought salads were supposed to be low-calorie!”

    Well, er, not when topped with blue cheese, bacon, avocado and 1/4 cup of dressing (which is 400 calories in and of itself).

    But we are still perplexed as to how our Thai Crunch Salad added up to 1089 calories. It had lots of Napa and red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers and scallions, with perhaps two ounces of grilled chicken and modest accents of edamame, wontons, rice sticks and peanuts. The lime-cilantro dressing was minimal.

    It seems that if we wanted to count calories, we should have gotten half portions. But we left full of fiber and protein, and grateful that we hadn’t ordered the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

    This morning, we read a Food Channel Trendwire email which announced:

     

    At 550 calories, a better-for-you entrée.
    Photo courtesy Applebee’s.

     

    Restaurant Diners Actually Starting to Make Healthier Choices

    The article led with the bad news: A report issued earlier this month by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the national obesity epidemic continues to worsen. Only one state showed an obesity rate below 20% (and just barely): Colorado at 19.8%. Twelve states have obesity rates over 30%. Mississippi was number one at 34.4%. Seven states have seen their rates double in the past 20 years.

    But there is some good news: This year, a number of leading restaurant chains are finding significant growth in the better-for-you menu options.

  • Applebee’s. For the first time in the restaurant’s history, the top selling entrée on the menu came from the under-550 calorie menu: Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Sauce. Applebee’s president, Mike Archer, remarked, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re seeing a sea change in consumer behavior.”
  • IHOP. The pancake powerhouse reports that its Simple & Fit menu, offering a range of under-600 calorie choices, now accounts for 8% of entrées sold. At 330 calories, the Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Omelet is now a best seller.
  • Friendly’s. Four of its under-550 calorie limited time offers have sold so well that they’ve been moved to the permanent menu this summer.
  •  
    Of course, the reports don’t count any beverages, bread, appetizers and desserts, but America is finally off to a good start.

      

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