Health and freshness have always been priorities for diners, but today they want something more – to know where the food comes from and what’s in it, so that they feel better from the inside out.
Food is so much more than nourishment; it’s an experience, a story, a lifestyle. Diners come to the table with high hopes and hotels can deliver with food that is organic, natural and minimally processed, and food which is sustainable, locally produced and environmentally-friendly.
The first makes diners feel good physically; the second packs an emotional punch.
On the health side, market research company Mintel reported diners specifically want less salt and sugar, and zero trans-fats or preservatives. Similarly, researchers at Nielsen found that 43% of people choose food without genetically modified ingredients.
Instead, people look for foods to make them feel healthier from the inside out, and one third of diners prefer food that is high in fibre and protein or is fortified with minerals, vitamins and calcium.
That’s the science – but life is more than vitamins and fibre. Every dish on every table tells a tale and people want to hear that story and be reassured that the food doesn’t just taste good, it’s good for them as well.
For instance, diners prefer locally-sourced food that has travelled less than the industry average of 1,000 miles from farm to plate. This is not just a ‘nice to have’, but will become something they expect.
Backing this up, the US National Restaurant Association found that over 80% of chefs saw locally-sourced meat and seafood as a hot trend. These expensive local ingredients can be supplemented by products that simplify catering and come with high levels of food safety and integrity.
Hotels are taking note – Marriott International and Starwood Hotels, among others, have removed trans-fats from their kitchens, while Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston and the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas both offer gluten-free dishes. These are not just for people with gluten intolerance, and many consumers ask for gluten- and dairy-free products because they think they are better for them.
This move towards healthier eating is most noticeable among people in Asia-Pacific and the younger generation. That means it’s not just a passing fad. The same is true of illness-preventing superfoods such as kale and berries, as well as sustainable food: the younger the customer, the more likely they are to support it.
Good food doesn’t just need to be salad and steamed vegetables, though. Adapting favourite recipes by using organic, low-salt, low-fat ingredients, for example, mean that diners can eat the food they want at the same time as feeling good. They still look for exciting, tasty foods that are full of flavour. But if they can find versions which are made with ‘better’ ingredients then they will choose those.
Nor does this enthusiasm for feel-good food mean diners don’t allow themselves the occasional treat, either. Even though sales of healthy foods like dairy-based shakes and vegetables outpaced sales of indulgences like chocolate and cookies, overall sales of both kinds of food grew, reported Nielsen.
Diners also want transparency, so they know what they are eating. Food Technology magazine reports that many professional kitchens have made a point of making their menus healthier by banning artificial ingredients and additives.
Perhaps most reassuringly, the Nielsen survey found that 93% of diners in Asia-Pacific are prepared to pay a premium for food that they know is the healthier option.
When there is such a clear message from diners, hotels can make a point of showcasing where their food is from and how it is made to reassure diners that their desire for healthier food has been met.