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Did you know that 45 million Americans go on diets each year? Our preoccupation with cholesterol levels and BMI is legendary. Studies show that up to 95% of Americans look for nutritious options when shopping. By extension, the functional food trend is a direct result of consumer preferences for healthy choices.

But, what is a healthy diet? Does it consist of low-fat and high carb foods? Or is a high-protein diet a better bet for optimum health?

For many diners, keeping up with new diet trends helps them stay in step with celebrity lifestyles. Meanwhile, others naturally enjoy experimenting with diets that deliver tangible health benefits. Whatever the preferences of consumers, we’re not here to judge the merits of such diets.

Instead, we’re interested in helping you, the restauranteur, leverage these diets to your advantage.

Below, we discuss functional foods, one of the hottest new trends in America, and how you can use them to increase your revenue takings.

What Are Functional Foods?

From Omega-3 fortified eggs to the ever-popular kombucha (a fermented tea), fortified foods have been rocking the restaurant scene for well over a year. What was once a barely noticeable trend is now a full-blown phenomenon.

Functional foods are foods that offer wellness benefits outside of their standard nutritional makeup. Sure, carbs, fats, and protein are the building blocks of a proper diet. However, functional foods deliver health benefits by correcting nutritional deficiencies.

So, the functional food trend isn’t centered on low-fat menu options. Instead, the focus is on highly soluble fiber and probiotic properties.

Functional foods cover a massive variety of food types. In particular, functional foods are usually split into two categories.

  • Enriched Foods: These foods have been enriched with nutrients to provide a specific health benefit. These would be your calcium-fortified fruit juices, probiotic yogurts, and Omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Conventional Whole Foods: These foods include your whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

For restaurants, functional foods are attractive menu items, perhaps because they play into the country’s current health preferences.

So, if you serve eggs and bacon for breakfast, try serving Omega-3-rich, high-protein meals to give your customers the confidence to face the challenges of the day. 💪

Let’s take a look at the categories of functional foods that are popular in 2019.

Functional Foods Deliver Health Benefits

Let’s talk about the benefits of functional foods.

1. Digestive Health

New Nutrition Business — a food trend consultancy agency — recently listed digestive wellness as the #1 focus in food manufacturing. What this means is that gut-healthy foods are trending near the top of the food chain. BBC Research expects the probiotic industry alone to hit $50 billion in revenues next year.

The secret to winning diners with digestive health concerns lies in your descriptors. Probiotics are popular. However, many consumers have absolutely no idea what they are. In fact, 29% of people still have no clue what the word “probiotic” means. However, everyone knows what digestive health is.

In fact, 92% of Americans say that they are actively looking to improve their digestive health.

So, serving foods that contribute to a healthy intestinal biome can get some happy new customers into your restaurant.

The functional food trend centers on these gut-healthy foods:

  • Yogurt, a fermented milk product
  • Kombucha, a fermented black or green tea beverage
  • Tempeh, an Indonesian food made from caked, fermented soybeans
  • Kimchi, a Korean national dish of fermented, salty vegetables
  • Natto, fermented soybeans
  • Kefir, a fermented beverage made from goat, cow, or sheep milk proteins
  • Sauerkraut, fermented raw cabbage
  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste often used as a soup seasoning

2. Heart-Healthy Ingredients

When people think of healthy food, they think of foods that benefit the heart. Case in point: The 2018 Food and Health Survey asked recipients why they wanted to eat healthily. Heart health was the #1 given reason for adherence to certain diets. This reason beat out answers tied to weight loss, energy levels, and brain function.

Considering the high rate of heart disease in America, the findings aren’t surprising.

In fact, heart disease is the #1 killer of adult men and women. Additionally, 1/4th of ALL deaths in the U.S. originate from heart issues.

Advertising and offering heart-healthy dishes is a surefire way to get consumers into your restaurant.

The functional food trend centers on these heart-healthy foods:

  • Anything high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as oysters, salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel
  • Soy foods
  • Nuts, especially walnuts, pecans, and almonds
  • Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
  • Red wine
  • Dark chocolate

3. Brain Boosters

Many of us suspect that brain health is crucial to our wellbeing. In fact, studies show that maintaining cognitive health is important as we age. A healthy brain decreases our risk of dementia and other cognitive disorders.

That said, we’d like to clarify an important point. When we talk about brain boosters, we’re referring to foods like green teas and walnuts — not brain booster pills with high caffeine content.

Functional foods ARE NOT the same thing as vitamins or supplements.

The functional food trend centers on these brain-healthy foods: 

  • Green tea
  • Walnuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Blueberries
  • Turmeric
  • Sprouted grains
  • Coffee

6 Tips To Help You Benefit From The Functional Food Trend

At this point, you may be wondering — “How can I actually leverage functional food to my advantage?

Chances are good that you already serve functional foods. In reality, many foods are technically “functional” foods. You just need to boost your customers’ awareness of the functional benefits of your cuisine.

Here are some tips to help your restaurant win with functional foods.

1. Call Out Functional Foods On Your Menu

For starters, identify all of the “functional foods” on your menu. Then, highlight those items, so your customers know where to find them. If you serve a salmon burger, put italics under the entree with the words “rich in heart-healthy Omega-3s”

Most customers don’t spend precious daytime hours poring through stacks of nutrition trial data. However, almost all of them want to eat healthier meals.

So, let them know the value of the foods on your menu.

One way to showcase your healthy menu is through entree name changes. Replace the boring “salmon burger” with “Big Jim’s heart-healthy salmon burger.” Even better, emphasize functional food items on your menu in big, bold letters on the walls of your restaurant. Do you serve bacon burgers? Not anymore! They’re now called Protein Power burgers!

2. Add Healthier Items To Your Menu

The most obvious way to win with functional foods is to serve them. Sure, you already serve heart-healthy salads. However, kombucha is where it’s at in 2019.

Be sure to follow the latest food trends and leverage them to add new profit layers to your restaurant platform.

Have you heard of kimchi fries? These are crispy French fries topped with bulgogi (Korean BBQ beef slices), kimchi, Sriracha sauce, and cilantro. Feature it on your menu, and highlight its benefits.

3. Use The Right Buzzwords

It’s no secret that buzzwords sell food. And, let’s be honest — buzzwords are an easy way to highlight your current marketing campaign.

Think about it: Do you really want to explain your hyper-sustainable food supply chain to every customer? Probably not. That’s why the word “farm-to-table” exists.

When it comes to functional foods, you should think about incorporating these buzzwords into your menu:

  • Natural
  • Heart-healthy
  • Brain-healthy
  • Omega-3 fortified
  • Probiotic-rich
  • Fiber-rich
  • Protein-rich
  • Antibiotic-free

4. Leverage Your Online Menu

Since the functional food trend primarily involves highlighting the health benefits of your existing foods, your online menu will be one of your greatest assets.

You want to let customers know that you serve healthy foods. So, cut down on the “low-fat” language and get straight to descriptions about Omega-3 and probiotic-rich foods. One of the easiest ways to do this is to leverage your online ordering system to highlight the benefits of each dish.

Use Instagram-worthy pictures and great descriptors to draw attention to your healthy food items. Remember, however, the food has to both look and taste good. Otherwise, no one’s going to order it.

5. Look For Upselling Opportunities

So far, we haven’t really talked about adding any new items to your restaurant’s menu. Partially, that’s because you already serve some functional foods. Also, it’s always easier to begin with what you have, rather than what you don’t have.

That said, the functional food trend can lead to some fantastic upselling opportunities for your restaurant. To take advantage of it, however, you may need to make an extra trip to the store.

Adding items like kombucha can drive big-time profits, even if the rest of your menu seems rather conventional in nature.

The Top Functional Foods For Upselling Opportunities

  1. Kombucha: This slightly-sweet, completely gut-friendly tea has gone from existing in niche ultra-hip vegan ecosystems to being a mainstream phenomenon. With sales 12x greater than 3 years ago, kombucha is on a growth spurt. Happily, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
  2. Kimchi: It’s hard to call kimchi trendy. After all, you can find it at your local supermarket, often next to tofu, bean sprouts, and julienned broccoli. However, this Korean pickled vegetable relish continues to be popular. It’s also an absolutely delicious and altogether interesting menu item for restaurants. Like kombucha, it has that fermented healthy-gut vibe. However, unlike kombucha, kimchi is insanely versatile. From Chi’lantro BBQ’s famous kimchi fries creation to kimchi burgers and sandwiches, you can definitely find a way to wedge kimchi into your menu — no matter your restaurant’s niche.
  3. Superfoods: We’ve always thought of the functional food trend as an evolution of the superfood craze. For years, diets were undoubtedly tied to the 3 big nutrients (fat, carbs, and protein). However, superfoods upended that conventional narrative with a renewed emphasis on the content of our meals — as opposed to their quantity. Presently, superfoods still present profit opportunities for savvy restauranteurs. Sure, acai bowls aren’t the supernova stars of yesteryear. However, consumers still dig acai berry and chia-seed infused smoothies.

6. Don’t Make Health Claims You Can’t Substantiate

Despite recent breakthroughs, a small level of uncertainty remains in the field of nutrition science. Every year, food manufacturers make bold claims about the health benefits of certain foods.

It’s completely fine to let people know your salmon is heart-healthy, rich in Omega-3s, and tasty. However, don’t tell them it cures blindness because ONE randomized trial highlighted the benefits of Omega-3s on eye health.

Stick with research that has produced replicated results by other scientists and been peer-reviewed.

The Right Online Ordering System Can Help You Leverage The Functional Food Trend To Raise Revenues

Whether you need to leverage some of the hottest summer LTOs, leverage the functional food trend to drive profits, or win with big data, 9Fold can help you get the most out of your online ordering system. With smart analytics, incredible usability, and a smooth, customer-winning UI, 9Fold provides hyper-branded online ordering systems that help your restaurant capture more diners in the digital age.

Want to learn more? Contact us to schedule a no-obligation free demo today!