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According to GlobalData's Foodservice Survey 2017, 45% of global consumers aim to find the healthiest food or drink options when eating out. Foodservice operators are already responding to this increased demand for health consciousness; however, it can be difficult to interpret what exactly 'healthy' means. 

The attempt to cater to the health trend has been further complicated by an overabundance of options and diet advice. Yet with GlobalData's Q3 2016 Global Consumer Survey finding that 42% of consumers are actively trying to lose weight, and 58% of that group doing so by following a healthier meal plan, there is a clear demand for operators to provide healthier options. 

In the upcoming GlobalData report Foodservice Insights & Trends – Focus on Health, analysts explore the key drivers behind the health trend in foodservice. Although there are conflicting definitions of 'health' between consumer sectors, there are overarching indicators that operators can draw from when looking to serve healthier options. 

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Weight loss and self-image: addressing dietary needs

GlobalData's Global Consumer Survey, Q4 2015 found that 53% of the global population eats outside the home at least once a week, a figure that places foodservice operators in a pivotal position to affect consumers' dietary habits. 

With 58% of people looking to lose weight doing so by following healthier diets, the offerings that foodservice operators can provide are likely to prove critical to these consumers. Further considering the ongoing obesity epidemic, it is likely to only become increasingly important for operators to offer an element of health-conscious service. 

Importantly, while the global interest currently hovers below 50%, 54% of consumers in Latin America and 51% in the APAC region aim to find the healthiest food or drink options when eating out of the home.  Foodservice operators working in these regions should be particularly aware of the opportunities present in offering healthier options. 

Some 58% of those looking to lose weight doing so by following healthier diets

On a global level, demand for healthy options is also linked with consumers' self-image. GlobalData found that 78% of consumers deem their looks or appearance to be generally important or very important. While not all these consumers may be trying to actively drop weight, they are likely to appreciate food that is considered healthy and not affecting their weight negatively.

Perhaps the most important consideration for foodservice operators is to include vegetables and fruit in their meal options. Although there are conflicting perceptions of what healthy means among different groups of consumers, GlobalData's Global Consumer Survey, Q3 2016 found fruit and vegetables to have more than 50% support for being maximised in consumer diets. This is likely due to the perception among consumers that they are 'natural' foods; 'natural' was the most popular term used in the Q4 2017 survey when participants described what 'healthy' means to them. There is ample opportunity for foodservice operators to present menus that emphasise the inclusion of natural ingredients such as fruit and vegetables, particularly in the Latin America and APAC regions. 

The generational divide over what ‘healthy’ means

The challenge that operators will face regardless of region is finding a definition of ‘healthy’ that applies across consumer sectors. Although GlobalData's Global Consumer Survey, Q4 2017 found that 69% of consumers considered 'natural' to mean 'healthy' and 61% said the same for 'balanced nutrition', other terms found far less consensus. 

The split in considerations of 'health' falls mostly along age lines, with Millennials showing support for trends such as gluten and dairy-free while older consumers show little belief in a connection between these trends and health.  

Sugar and fat remain more broadly held in low regard with GlobalData finding that 63% of consumers claim to either be limiting their sugar intake or avoiding it altogether. The Q4 2017 survey also found that 44% of people considered 'low in sugar' to mean 'healthy' and 43% thought the same of 'low in fat'. 

Most prominent, however, were the terms ‘natural’ (69%) and ‘balanced nutrition’ (61%) – claims that may seem obvious indicators of healthiness in food but are seeing steadily increasing adoption. 

Looking to stable pillars of the trend such as natural food is sensible, but operators should also consider the trends that make up the consumer engagement with health in foodservice

Foodservice operators would be well served by emphasising these qualities as a relatively simple positive boost to a brand’s image. Several fast food brands, for example, have adopted ‘natural’ credentials to combat broader perceptions of their food being unhealthy.

With the complexity of defining ‘health’ in foodservice, and emerging environmental and social factors adding to the picture, it may seem tricky for operators to pin down a healthy offering with a broad appeal. Looking to stable pillars of the trend such as natural food is sensible, but operators should also consider the trends that make up the consumer engagement with health in foodservice. Aside from weight management, operators can also innovate in the areas of convenience/affordability, sensory indulgence, and making the eating experience smarter and more connected. 

Making healthy food smart and convenient

Foodservice operators are not the only ones puzzled by the meaning of ‘healthy’: GlobalData’s Global Consumer Survey, Q2 2015 found that 35% of consumers think figuring out what food and drinks are healthy for them is confusing. 

If operators are to fill the role of assisting with dietary goals, they could do well by expanding digital offerings to better guide buying decisions. McDonald’s for example, offers a nutrition calculator that allows customers to work out the nutritional statistics of a meal. By offering such services, operators can take advantage of the wider connectivity and digitalisation trends, ensuring they are up-to-date with consumer expectations and potential competitor innovation. 

GlobalData found that 45% of consumers are unsure about, or disagree with the idea, that convenience food can also be healthy

Elsewhere, operators should be considering how to combine health and convenience. Snacking has seen a rise in recent years as consumers more commonly perceive their time to be scarce, leading to a demand for food that is affordable and easy to eat on the go. However, there is a gap between consumers’ preference for convenient food and their need for food that meets dietary goals and is considered healthy. 

GlobalData’s Global Consumer Survey, Q1 2015 found that 45% of consumers are unsure about, or disagree with the idea, that convenience food can also be healthy. Yet with the Q4 2017 survey finding the top two snacks to be fruit followed by nuts and seeds (these two also being the only selections to gain more than 50% support), there is a clear opportunity for foodservice operators to fill this gap and ensure the convenient snacks they provide are also healthy.

There are several areas of opportunity for foodservice operators to explore going forward, but it is vital for them to realise the role they can play in meeting consumer’s dietary goals. Even operators who already provide healthy options should consider expanding these options or re-evaluating whether they are best serving the consumer. 

Although there are still debates over various trends within healthy food, there are factors with a broad appeal that operators can use strategically. By focusing around these areas and emphasising the role of support for consumers’ dietary goals, foodservice operators can best take advantage of a trend that is likely to grow further in the future.

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