Companies adapting to changing consumer food preferences

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 1st May 2008

As public concern about the obesity epidemic has grown over the past five years so too has the number of stores providing healthier choices on their menus. According to research by the Heart Foundation, 88% of Australian consumers now believe that food retailers have a social responsibility to provide healthier options to consumers.

Consumers are therefore demanding to be provided with healthier options and companies adapting to the changing preferences are doing so with great success.

With a glut of fast food outlets in major Australian cities, new stores have required a different focus to set them apart from the bulk of the competition – health has been that focus. Such has been the success of healthy take away food creations that The Australian newspaper reported last week that six of the fastest growing franchises in Australia are food retailers that have taken a healthy angle.

Australia’s Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar epitomises the trend with the success of their pizza outlets; which has seen the number of outlets increase from four a couple of years ago to a approximately 25 by the end of the year. Crust were the first company from the pizza industry to gain the Heart Foundation’s ‘tick of approval’ and, according to founder Costa Anastasiadis, their expansion indicates the desire for customers to have healthier options.

“When we approached the Heart Foundation they were thrilled because they hadn’t had anyone from the pizza industry who had approached them,” Anastasiadis is quoted as saying in The Australian. “It was a very costly process but we think it has given us an edge. The response we’ve had from our customers has been tremendous.”

Established companies are now endeavouring to counter the flood of health food outlets by improving their menus.

McDonald’s, in the wake of much public criticism about the health content of their menu, have been a key symbol of this trend with their creation and continued improvement of a ‘Healthy Choice’ menu. The world’s largest take away restaurant franchise then sought the Heart Foundation ‘tick’ to prove their commitment to providing consumers with healthier options. With research by the Heart Foundation indicating that 75% of Australian consumers are positively influenced by the ‘tick’; it is not surprising McDonald’s profits have increased at a greater rate since creating the new menu.

Subway was in a position to capitalise on the trend in its infancy and have flourished as the trend has gathered momentum. Such has been their success that they now operate more stores in Australia, the US and Canada than McDonald’s.

It is not just take away food retailers getting behind the trend but also food manufacturers like Nestle and Jelly Belly. Nestle have recently shown a greater dedication to the ‘health and wellness’ category via various acquisitions including a bottled water company, a baby food company as well as the purchase of the rights to produce and sell Boost smoothies in supermarkets in the UK.

Jelly Belly, on the other hand, is merely adapting their product to better suit the marketplace. This has resulted in the creation of jellybeans with electrolytes for energy replenishment and the use of natural colours and preservatives for a small range of their confectionery. The increased use of probiotics and antioxidants in yoghurts and other foods is yet another example of the adaption by companies involved in the food industry to the demand for healthy food.

Australians now eat almost three million meals at large fast food outlets across the country every day with almost one-third of all money dedicated to food going toward meals purchased outside the home.