As consumer interest in healthy dining options continues to rise, so does the presence of fruit on U.S. menus, and new research from Technomic shows blueberries – a fruit known for its nutritional profile – gaining major traction among the top 500 chain restaurants. Overall blueberry mentions on American menus have increased 97 percent since 2007 – a stronger growth rate than that of strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries – with fresh blueberry mentions up more than 176 percent in the same time period.
Contributing to this growth is a combination of factors including changing consumer preferences and an evolution in the way foodservice professionals view blueberries. The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council works to influence both.
“Today’s consumers see blueberries as one of the little choices they can make in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, and savvy restaurants are picking up on that,” says Mark Villata, executive director for the USHBC. “Our research shows that the health halo affiliated with blueberries extends all the way to dining establishments that feature them – so, restaurants looking to capture consumers’ interests should consider adding more blueberry options to their menus.”
Not just for muffins
The chain restaurants surveyed are using blueberries in more different types of dishes than ever before, with increased usage apparent across all restaurant segments and meal parts. Key areas of growth include:
- Non-alcoholic beverages, including smoothies – incidence of blueberry mentions up 93 percent since 2007
- Entrees, including salads – incidence of blueberry mentions up 66 percent since 2007
- Dessert dishes – incidence of blueberry mentions up 45 percent since 2007
Increased use in beverages and entrees show how blueberries are gaining traction as a little way to make a commonplace dish a great one, and the upward trend in the dessert category is consistent with the finding that 60 percent of consumers now say they choose fruit for dessert at least once a week – more people than those who regularly opt for cookies (51 percent) or ice cream (47 percent).
Riding the smoothie wave
As smoothie fever sweeps the nation, many chain restaurants have begun offering blueberry as a flavor that appeals to customers, particularly younger millenials (Gen-Y).
- Menu incidence of blueberry mentions in smoothies increased 60 percent since 2007
- 54 percent of consumers overall and 63 percent of 18-24 year-olds say they find blueberry an appealing smoothie flavor
Snacktime: An untapped opportunity
With more and more consumers drawn to healthy snacks and small plates, fruit has yet another opportunity to gain menu share5.
- 51 percent say they eat snacks at least twice a day, with 58 percent citing fresh fruit as an occasional choice5
- And, while nearly half of college students (41 percent) consider fruit their #1 choice for snacking (more than chips/pretzels, candy, cookies or cereal), the numbers indicate they may be in search of more options: only 11 percent of 18-24 year-olds currently eat fresh fruit as a snack away from home. By providing a variety of snack options featuring fruit, restaurants can position themselves to increase traffic and sales—particularly among a younger customer base.