'Organic' down, 'gluten-free' up on menus

by Monica Watrous
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CHICAGO — “Organic” claims have declined on restaurant menus, while such terms as “gluten-free,” “made from scratch” and “signature” grew between the fourth quarter of 2010 to 2013, according to Mintel, a Chicago-based market research firm.

While “organic” remains the leading ethical claim on menus, its usage dropped 28 percent during the period, due in part to higher costs associated with such items. Additionally, operators are using a wider variety of terms to describe how food is prepared and from where it was sourced.

“The reality is that organic foods are quite expensive and consumers are looking for alternative claims to help them determine what other types of menu items are safe and of good quality to eat,” said Julia Gallo-Torres, category manager, US food service Oxygen reports. “Tying into this, we are seeing a return to tried-and-true, traditional preparations, signaled by claims tied to classic, original, homemade, etc.”

All nutritional claims on menus grew 14 percent, and geographic claims climbed 12 percent. Homemade cues such as “original recipe,” “freshly-picked” and “farm style” also are rising. “Made from scratch” contributed 10 percent to overall growth of all restaurant menu claims, and the word “signature” increased 34 percent.

“Many Americans look to menu information to eat better and healthier,” Gallo-Torres said. “Nutritional claims signal that certain foods can contribute to general health. In terms of geographic claims, consumers are seeking dining experiences that are more authentic and these claims also can convey a healthier presentation.”

Also posting healthy growth are allergen-related claims, such as “gluten-free,” which increased 200 percent and accounted for 40 percent of the total growth in ingredient nutritional claims on menus during the time period.

“The number of allergen-related claims will continue to gain momentum, as more people are officially diagnosed with specific allergies and their families also go on restricted diets to help keep them healthy,” Gallo-Torres said. “Leaning towards health, there also is a surge in vegetarian and vegan foods. People also want to know where their foods are coming from. Consumers will continue to look to menus for guidance on what to eat.”
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