Menu Innovations | May 2013 | By Lori Zanteson

The Other Side of Super

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Superfoods like whole grains and oatmeal offer healthy menu alternative.
Oatmeal, a whole-grain superfood, is the fastest- growing item on breakfast menus, according to Datassential. thinkstock.com
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Whole grains are standouts among the superfood offerings at Tropical Smoothie Café. The Triple Berry Oat, one of the brand’s Supercharged smoothies, has earned a stamp from the Whole Grains Council for the inclusion of whole-grain oats and flax seed. It also features strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, whey protein, and Splenda.

Tropical Smoothie Café serves several sandwiches on its Nine-Grain Wheat bread, including the Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad with tomatoes and field greens, and the Turkey Guacamole, with tomatoes, field grains, cilantro, and lime.

CEO Mike Rotondo says he would like to further expand the superfood offerings. “We’re trying to find ways of incorporating these in our menu,” he says. “[But] we’re not a health-food place. We provide better-for-you food with a tropical twist.”

Rotondo says flavor is paramount because guests won’t return if the food doesn’t taste good. That’s why the company focuses on using flavorful superfoods in smart combinations, like adding kale to spinach, mango, pineapple, and banana for a smoothie that “tastes amazing,” he says.

“Superfoods can add these different dimensions,” Rotondo says, noting that Tropical Smoothie Café adds nuts to a salad both for flavor and for crunch. “It’s the whole experience.”

At Freshii, an international franchise with more than 100 locations, superfoods give customers more opportunities to make nutritious choices. “Instead of just brown rice, we have quinoa,” says Mia Jacobs, project manager. “It’s a natural progression, but we try to be really innovative by introducing these foods in a simple way, like adding almonds to a Cobb salad, if that’s what you like.”

Limited-time offers allow Freshii to showcase newer superfood ingredients at a normal price. “It makes the customer really excited,” Jacobs says.

Sourcing these ingredients can be costly, Jacobs says, but she expects them to get cheaper as they become more popular.

Superfoods are well represented on the menu at Chicago-based Hannah’s Bretzel—with options including quinoa, seven-grain bread, nuts, and seeds—but founder Florian Pfahler is choosing not to market the term superfood too much.

“We talk about the functionality of food,” he says. “The way things are marketed is so extreme. I like to stay away from that. We put out a balanced menu with a focus on vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of nuts and seeds. They’re very important, but they need to be mixed up as an interesting variety of foods.”

Pfahler says the more interesting the variety of foods customers are offered, the more educated they become. He is particularly adamant about the importance of complex carbohydrates in whole grains, nuts, and seeds that provide energy longer than foods made with simple carbs like sugar and white flour. Desserts at Hannah’s are “a work in progress,” Pfahler says, because the team is experimenting with making pastries with alternative flours like khorasan wheat and spelt instead of bleached white flour, which he says is empty carbohydrates. “We want to steer our customers away from these without sacrificing taste,” he says. “It’s doable, and our customers really appreciate that and are increasingly looking for that type of nutrition.”

Hannah’s offers cookies, brownies, blondies, and blueberry and banana breads made with whole grains and quinoa flour. “They’re not a huge portion,” Pfahler says, “but you don’t need it when they’re nutritionally dense.”

All of Hannah’s sandwiches are made with either the bretzel bread or the seven-grain bread. The more health-conscious customer will choose the seven-grain, but Pfahler says it’s important customers make their own choice. Because choice is so important at Hannah’s, the company offers tamari nuts as a free alternative side for customers who don’t want the less healthful potato chips.

“They’re very expensive, but they’re such a good nutritious item, and not everyone is taking them,” Pfahler says. “It balances out. I think it’s very valuable to be transparent about what you do. Customers are appreciative and are willing to pay a little more.”