Marc Halperin: Resident F&B Expert | May 2013 | By Marc Halperin

A Super Marketing Tool

The decision to add superfoods to the menu isn’t just a culinary consideration.

Superfoods like quinoa give quick serve operators a strong marketing tool.
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Sit down and relax, Mr. and Mrs. Menu Developer. You look tense. Here, have a sip of this blueberry-kale-sun-dried-tomato-açai-green-tea-flaxseed smoothie I’ve just whipped up. It’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamin B, fiber, and lycopene. I think you’ll find it both restorative and refreshing.

What’s that, you say? Trendy, much-ballyhooed ingredients like these are actually causing your agitation? I see, I see. You’re noticing more of these so-called superfoods and superfruits on supermarket shelves—in everything from juices and breakfast cereals to breads, prepackaged salads, snack bars, tortilla chips, and preserves—and you’re worried that your quick-serve concept is missing the boat? Perfectly understandable. It does sometimes seem as though all it takes to hit pay dirt nowadays is to pump a little pomegranate into your pastry, pie filling, or pumpernickel loaf.

But may I interject a few words of caution before you start cooking up batches of barley burgers, experimenting with wheatgrass-based condiments, ditching french fries in favor of veggie chips, or exploring the potential of hempseed milkshakes? At a time when everyone over the age of 28 is looking for that magic nutritional bullet that’s going to stave off disease, promote good digestive health, sustain vital organ function, and maybe, just maybe, impart the gift of eternal life, it’s only natural that creative professionals like you would fret over losing customers to the chain whose menu is, shall we say, a little more vitamin-rich and antioxidant-packed. Here’s the good news: Adding superfoods to your menu is frightfully simple. Most can be incorporated into everyday products without a great deal of hassle. The bad news? You, sir and madam, have before you not a culinary decision, but a marketing decision. And marketing, it’s probably fair to say, typically isn’t your preferred sandbox.

There are two questions your operation really needs to contemplate here. The first is, Do we believe adding superfoods to our products is likely to drive meaningfully higher transaction levels and check totals? If the answer is yes, the second question becomes, How should we talk about these additions to the consumer in our marketing and advertising?

Once you’ve arrived at the answers, the mechanics of adding superfoods to your existing menu items—or even developing new ones around these signature ingredients—isn’t terribly complicated. Consider:

Burger concepts can easily add superfruits to their beverages in the form of smoothies, juices, and iced teas. Adding, say, açai extract, carrot juice, or blueberries to these types of beverages is relatively simple. And when it comes to salads, salad dressings, and salad toppings, the sky’s the limit. Avocado, hummus, flaxseed, wheat germ, fortified mayonnaise—the possibilities are endless. On the more avant-garde edge of the burger spectrum, creative minds might consider the potential of superfood snacks, such as chickpeas, beans, or other legumes that can be deep-fried or dry-roasted.

Pizza chains could make several types of dark leafy greens, particularly kale, available to customers as pie toppings. Their crusts could also be modified to contain higher-fiber, whole-grain flours.

Fried chicken concepts could consider adding sides of quinoa or other heritage grains, enhancing their standard condiments with garlic, or incorporating higher-fiber flours into their batters.

Mexican-themed brands could employ superfoods in their taco and burrito fillings; reformulate taco shells and tortillas to incorporate spinach, edible bean, or tomato flours; or offer agua frescas containing superfruits.

Finally, soup, salad, and sandwich chains enjoy almost limitless options for adding superfoods to their standard offerings. Soups, in particular, can be enhanced with any number of high-fiber grains, dark greens, beans, or cruciferous vegetables, from broccoli to cauliflower and beyond.

The lesson here is that it can be quite simple to introduce superfood ingredients to your menu if your chief marketing officer determines that doing so could offer a competitive edge or effectively court a new category of potential customers. These additions don’t diminish quality or destroy flavor profiles; rather, most actually enhance them.

One word of caution: In my experience, companies that want to communicate health benefits are best served not by bludgeoning the consumer with the potential upsides, but by more subtly conveying these messages in ways that don’t oversell. Consumers today are conscious of the presence and possible nutritional value of superfoods, even if they’re not 100 percent sold on the benefits. A more measured and modest approach may be more likely to win their approval than a hard sell. In other words, a burger chain is better off taking a stealthy approach to augmenting its salads and toppings than trying to recast itself as a health-food spot.

That’s the value of superfoods in a nutshell: A few select additions can go a long way toward satisfying consumers’ desire to reconcile great taste and nutrition without distracting from products’ core appeal. Now, Mr. and Mrs. Menu Developer, soldier boldly into the superfood fray, consider your options, and determine whether these highly touted ingredients are for you.

Marc Halperin

A classically trained chef who earned his Grand Diplôme d’Études Culinaires at Paris’s prestigious Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, COO Marc Halperin brings considerable gastronomic expertise and more than two decades of restaurant-consulting and teaching experience to the table. Prior to co-founding CCD, Halperin’s culinary tenure included stints in such celebrated kitchens as those of Taillevent and Maxim’s in Paris, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and the Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City, Utah, where he served as head pastry chef during the resort's inaugural season. Later, he was a chef instructor at Le Cordon Rouge cooking school in Sausalito, California, and at the California Culinary Academy.

Marc is a professional member of the Research Chefs Association and a member of the San Francisco Professional Food Society, and currently contributes each month to QSR Halperin holds a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and a Master’s in music performance from Boston University.