Industry Update
Opinion Article16 July 2014

Catering to the Nutraceutical Market

Giving Your Hotel’s F&B a New Health Kick

By Larry Mogelonsky , Owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited and the founder of LMA Communications Inc.

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We are what we eat. What we eat affects our emotions, our energy levels, our immune systems, our physical strength, how quickly we age and even how intelligent we are. New dietary research continues to reaffirm these correlations and people the world over are slowly waking up to the fact that feeding the body high octane fuel is a lifestyle choice with astounding benefits.

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However, eating perfectly is not (yet) an exact science and as such, there isn't one universally proven method of boosting one's health via certain eats. Case in point: look at the plethora of what's currently trending – vegetarianism, veganism, raw foodism, pescetarianism, the paleo diet, the slow carb diet, gluten-free eating and so on.

Trends Keep Changing

A decade ago, dairy was great for you; now it's chock full of bad sugars, allergens and hormones. Fat used to be the enemy, now it's carbs. Unless you have a degree in nutrition or physiology, comprehending the differences between all these dietary regimens is downright perplexing…and intimidating.

One thing is for certain: with demand for healthy food increasing, it's time to update and redefine your hotel's F&B program with a marketable 21st century spin.

This isn't a survey article to review all these movements and the benefits of specific nutrients. Rather, understand that new age diets are rapidly gaining popularity, and that, while it's incredibly hard to appeal to all of these discerning consumer groups in addition to us 'normal eaters', you still have to do something to appease this burgeoning, wellness-focused market.

Nutraceuticals

People want healthy options, so give them what they want! With this goal in mind, let's tackle another side of the healthy eating coin – nutraceuticals.

"What does that mean?" you say. The word 'nutraceutical' is a portmanteau of 'nutrition' and 'pharmaceutical', and for the purposes of our discussion this neologism will denote foods at the intersection of both these terms. If the argument that 'you are what you eat' holds true, then it would be prudent of you to think of foods as medication. Another buzz term, functional foods are natural foods enriched with additive minerals, vitamins or healthy fats through the aptly named process of 'nutrification'. Two basic examples of this are milk fortified with vitamin D and yogurt with probiotics. Viewed with a marketing sensibility, this nutrification gives brands one more selling feature for their staple foods (until their competitors copy them that is!).

The other related word that might pop out in your head is supplements. Traditionally associated with the more athletically inclined community, everything from whey powder and multivitamins to berry extracts and glucosamine chondroitin are consumed on a daily basis by millions of 'regular' people. This utilization now amounts to a billion dollar industry, meaning that any activity you generate in this regard might not be as foreign a concept as you think.

Why Nutraceuticals Over Other Dietary Trends?

The reason for considering a nutraceutical menu redesign at one or more of your property's F&B outlets is that it can potentially make for a far easier implementation when compared to some of the other dietary movements. For instance, adding a vegetarian burger to the menu (when done right) requires you to source the proper raw ingredients then make the patties from scratch prior to lining them up for the grill. This multistep process might be a tad trickier to put into practice than, say, using Omega-3 eggs or replacing the lettuce in your homemade coleslaw with kale.

You might also want to look to the successes of, amongst others, the Vitamin Water and Booster Juice brands. The former entered the market as a direct competitor to the powerhouse that is Gatorade, only they explicitly advertised their nutritional enhancements – in most cases, simply coupling a vitamin with a mineral – in big, clear lettering on the bottle label. Booster Juice, as a purveyor of blended fruits and vegetables, already has a rather health-conscious product slate. But the franchise also offers nutraceutical 'boosters' to augment the customer satisfaction with each smoothie and to further differentiate the brand.

What both these companies do is, like any bona fide salesperson, express added nutrients in terms of consumer benefits. This prevents customer confusion and intimidation ("What the heck is glucosamine chondroitin? It sounds weird. I'm not eating it.") while also making the pathway to purchase that much simpler ("Try adding our joint support supplement which helps reduce stiffness and pain in your joints."). Dwelling on Booster Juice for a moment, with any nutraceutical restaurant venture, customer education is a must. This means that, first, you better have affable, knowledge and confident staff to discuss your product extras, and, second, it's an opportunity to develop rapport with patrons.

Give Customers What They Want

Examining these two popular brands offers yet another important consideration for choosing nutraceuticals over, say, a totally vegan menu. In short, functional foods and the like meet people halfway, allowing them the indulgence they seek as well as providing some physical wellness.

I'm not going to debate the physiological merits of Vitamin Water and Booster Juice products, their ingredients or sugar concentrations. What they both do right, however, is that they give customers what they want. Sugar is a very satisfying taste and people want their fix. These two brands meet this fundamental caloric need, and then they go one step beyond by providing a health kick through surplus vitamins and minerals or specific boosters. Omega-3 eggs operate on the same level; you get your fried or poached savory goodness while the additives work to restore a proper ratio of Omega-3/Omega-6 fats in your blood.

To put this in perspective, think of the converse. If Vitamin Water products didn't taste great but still provided a heavy dose of supplements, would people purchase them? Likewise, probably one of the biggest obstacles to adopting a vegetarian diet is that red meat tastes so darn good.

Let's hark back to the mantra of food as medication for one final point. In this sense, you can attempt to fight disease, old age and any bodily deterioration on two fronts – via an austere diet that excludes harmful substances or via counteracting drugs and nutritional supplements.

The former is vastly harder to sustain based upon what's available in the current environment. Have you ever tried going on a raw food diet for more than a month? You'll feel better, lose a ton of weight and look years younger. But it requires a dedication that is, frankly, all but impossible with any realistic work schedule (travel, lunch meetings, happy hour and so on). That, and the tastiest foods out there also happen to be quite bad for you (picture a meal of steak with a blab of butter, onion rings and ice cream with fudge sauce).

I'm sorry, but even though I strive to be as healthy as possible and I've made many comprises for my own wellbeing, enjoying all the cuisine that the world has to offer is an essential element of the human experience. Food should be fun and not just a nutritional requirement. So while I do maintain a reasonably good diet, I still need a little push from the latter camp – nutraceuticals – to keep me tip-top and to compensate for all my weekly (regretfully sometimes daily) indulgences. Never forget the importance of indulgence and pleasure eating, even when reconfiguring a menu for wellness purposes.

Investigate All Options

Once you start shifting the perspective from names and features into effects and benefits, there are countless options for you to consider for your menu upgrade. For starters, you can think straightforwardly in terms of isolated supplements and powders like whey protein, spirulina and probiotics, offering them as extras wherever suitable or integrating them into day-to-day foods (try spirulina nougat bars). From there, your investment in nutraceuticals can transform into a marketing strategy to also promote 'superfoods' whether they be hyped (kale or kelp) or a bit more obscure (maitake or other medicinal mushrooms).

Many spices have powerful therapeutic properties. Get your chefs infusing dishes with turmeric, cayenne, garlic, coriander, mace, cumin, ginger, sumac and cloves, and then advertise these concoctions. You might also tackle the issue by updating what herbal teas you offer. Many chai teas already incorporate a few of these aforementioned spices, so take it one step further and offer a soothing selection including other known medicinal plants more appropriate in tea form like dandelions or lavender. Lastly, how about some obscure (and likely wildly expensive) fruits like gac, mangosteen or brindleberry, loaded with antioxidants and lycopenes to help fight cancer, burn fat and give the skin a rejuvenating glow?

The opportunities aren't endless, but there are still more than enough for you to mull over and utilize for increasing sales, even if it's only one or two menu extensions. The key is that you must advertise the benefits patrons will experience by consuming these nutraceuticals. For instance, how many of you balked at the thought of drinking tea made from dandelions? Instead, phrase it as a herbal tea that works to reduce sugar cravings and flush out your kidneys where the active ingredient happens to be this common lawn weed.

Action Steps

A lot of choice, a lot of esoteric food names, a lot to digest in one sitting. Still though, you have to go with the flow of consumers, so if they want healthier foods, you better give them what they want. Here is a four-step process for evaluating how you should get involved:

1. Research What's Possible - There's a lot out there in terms of available functional foods and supplements, but a large portion of this won't fit with your existing program nor will it be logistically feasible. This is why we are discussing nutraceuticals in terms of minor, incremental menu updates as opposed to grand overhauls like converting a restaurant into a wholly vegetarian outlet (which likely requires replacing kitchen appliances and finding new suppliers).

2. Develop Your Brand Positioning - Once you've narrowed down what's possible from what's available, you then have to decide where to apply nutraceuticals (or another similar venture if that's the direction you decide to take) in such a manner where they will add to your brand values instead of proffering something entirely off-kilter. It has to be congruent – something customers might expect at a glance, but then exceeds their expectations once they get a deeper look.

3. Build Your Nutraceutical Menu Upgrades - Whereas the branding phase might view this change in abstract terms, building the menu is the nitty gritty. My recommendation here is to keep it simple and smart. Don't give patrons too much to think over all at once because they won't be able to make a decision outside of their comfort zone. Being smart means incorporating new foods in entertaining and intriguing ways. Think of a few select ingredients that will spark conversation and add a layer of nouveau sophistication to existing favorites.

4. Plan For Consumer Rigidity - Nutraceutical foods involve lots of scientific names. As previously stated, this can bewilder restaurant customers and hinder sales. Your servers and all other frontline staff must act as the ambassadors for this program. They are the ones who, through their knowledge and confidence, will eliminate skepticism and get people onboard. But in order for them to be successful at this, they need to first be educated on what the ingredients are and how they will benefit the consumer.

Larry Mogelonsky

One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited and the founder of LMA Communications Inc., an award-winning marketing agency based in Toronto. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service.

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