Recent research from Y-Pulse shows that the term "fresh" is a major buzzword among young Americans. The research and consulting firm, with offices in both Chicago and Alexandria, Virginia, recently polled middle school and junior high school students through the popular online youth community whyville.com to learn their ideas about what would be served in a "dream kitchen" at their school.
The feedback from the Y-Pulse survey shows that youths have a certain idea about what "fresh" means, typically referring to ingredient sources and preparation methods. In addition, respondents overwhelmingly showed a preference for fresh foods and beverages over items described as healthy or nutritious.
"Perhaps even more important for school foodservice operators, several students were vocal about their opinions that fresh products are limited at their schools," says Tami Cline, a registered dietitian, longtime foodservice industry consultant, and the co-founder of Y-Pulse.
"Whether or not that is perception or reality, operators can gain loyalty by carrying more fresh products and promoting them as such."
Several survey participants expressed an interest in fresh foods in a general way, referring to the quality, sourcing, and presentation of many types of menu items. Participants indicated that they do not want "leftovers" or food that is "shrink-wrapped" or "reheated," for example.
Another term often mentioned in conjunction with fresh food is "real" food. Numerous respondents say they would prefer a variety of "real" choices, ranging from hamburgers and chicken nuggets to eggs to iced tea.
Beyond a general demand for foods deemed fresh instead of overly- processed, survey respondents on whyville.com pointed to specific examples of fresh foods they'd like to see more of in their school's "dream kitchen"—- namely, fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh berries are a top choice, along with fresh-squeezed juice, fresh salad, fresh cut-up raw vegetables and "fresh cooked" green vegetables like broccoli. Trendy fruits like pomegranates and açai berries are on young people's wish lists, too.
"Interestingly, fresh seafood was also mentioned by quite a few students," Cline says. "It seems some of them even have a taste for fresh lobster and sushi, and while those are not realistic dishes for most middle and junior high foodservice operations, their response does show a level of sophistication in this generation. It's not your mother's fish sticks anymore."
Y-Pulse, LLC is a research and consulting firm that specializes in helping companies in the food business better understand tomorrow's tastemakers today.