Web Exclusive | January 2016 | By Nicole Duncan

The New (Year) Resolution Dilemma

Brands usher in 2016 with a mix of health-minded and indulgent offerings.
Top QSR chains promote 2016 new year with healthy lifestyle deals.
In addition to bringing former limited-time offers onto its permanent 600-Calorie Menu, Newk's also introduced a lineup of crawfish-inspired LTOs, including the Crawfish Pizza. image used with permission.

It’s that time of year again. Retailers from gyms and yoga studios to booksellers and grocers are peddling products that promise a healthier, happier lifestyle in 2016. Restaurants have always played a part in the resolution frenzy, but consumer demand for healthier, more wholesome food in recent years has expanded the nutritious offerings beyond the first few weeks of January.

“I think that America, by and large, has begun to recognize that a portion of their eat-out occasions during the week need to be a healthy mix,” says Alan Wright, CMO of Mississippi–based fast casual Newk’s Eatery. Earlier this week, Newk’s expanded its 600-Calorie Menu with an Ahi Tuna Salad and Shrimp & Avocado Salad, which were limited-time offers last year but are now part of the permanent menu. A day later, the brand announced a new seasonal lineup: Crawfish Pizza, Crawfish Mac and Cheese, and Crawfish Pimiento Mac and Cheese.

Wright says that the LTO launch coincided with a reemphasis on the 600-Calorie Menu items mostly due to the seasonal availability of crawfish. Nevertheless, he adds that as well known as Newk’s is for its healthier offerings of salads and soups, consumers sometimes forget about its more indulgent side.

“We play both ways, and I think that’s worked well for the brand,” Wright says. “We haven’t probably given ourselves enough credit on the [more indulgent] side of our offerings because people, by nature, are indulgent when they go out to eat.”

New research from The NPD Group also shows that consumers are more interested in cultivating healthy, balanced lifestyles, and less concerned with adhering to restrictive diets. The number of U.S. consumers who diet has decreased over the last decade, with only 22 percent reporting that they are on a diet.

However, NPD also asserts that consumers now consider “purity” to be paramount in determining the nutritional the value of certain foods, as opposed to the absence of fat or other descriptors that have been long maligned.

“We as a brand have tilted quite heavily toward not only seasonal proteins like crawfish … but more of an overbalance of good-for-you foods,” Wright says. “Internally, we’re scouring our menus for opportunities for more transparency, brand responsibility with our ingredients.”

“We play both ways, and I think that’s worked well for the brand.”

Indeed, many restaurants are ringing in the New Year with a wide variety of offerings—both limited-time only and permanent. Some, like Nekter Juice Bar and Red Mango, follow the traditional route of healthy, repentant juices after an indulgent holiday. Others take a more moderate approach, like the Superfood Side at Chick-fil-A and the new Turkey Burger at Carl’s Jr. Still, some (mostly brands with richer offerings as their core) are going in the opposite direction with items like the ironically named Chocoholic’s Resolution at Baskin-Robbins and a Fudge Croissant Doughnut at Dunkin’ Donuts.

  • Baskin-Robbins serves up Chocoholic’s Resolution, a Swiss-style chocolate ice cream with white caramel–filled cups and chocolate ganache cake, as well as lighter options, including a Vanilla Pomegranate Parfait Frozen Yogurt and Rock ‘n Pop Swirl sherbet.

  • Bruegger’s Bagels goes the comfort food route with the new Breakfast Brisket sandwich.

  • California Tortilla rolls out a protein-packed Super Food Burrito, filled with GMO-free mesquite chicken breast or fresh vegetables, Mexican quinoa, Feta, tomatoes, and avocado slices.

  • Captain D’s brings back its D-Lites menu with entrées under 500 calories.

  • Carl’s Jr. adds the industry’s first All-Natural Turkey Burger to its menu.

  • Charleys Philly Steaks will begin serving an LTO Bacon BBQ Ranch Sandwich next week.

  • Chick-fil-A gets super with its new Superfood Side, comprised of broccolini, dried cherries, and nuts.

  • Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf puts a new twist on the classic Americano with customizable flavors like hazelnut and mocha.

  • Dickey’s Barbecue rarely does LTOS, but offers $1 pulled pork sliders to kick off 2016.

  • Dunkin’ Donuts introduces the indulgent Fudge Croissant Donut and brings back the Chicken Apple Sausage Breakfast Sandwich, clocking in under 400 calories.

  • Johnny Rockets pulls inspiration from the winter season with its Portobello Chicken Sandwich, Texas BBQ Pulled Pork Cheeseburger, Smoky Cheddar Pulled Pork Loaded Street Tots, and All-American Apple Crumble Shake.

  • Larkburger adds a sustainably sourced Tuna Burger to its permanent menu.

  • Menchie’s sweetens its lineup with a limited-time Whoppers Malted Milk Balls flavor.

  • Nekter Juice Bar launches 21 Days of Nekter, which features 16-ounce juices or smoothies and a new Signature Cleanse with cold-pressed juices and seasonal soups.

  • Red Mango rolls out one-day juice plan, Raw6, which includes four juices, one enhanced flavor water, and one nut or soy milk.

  • Starbucks adds a Latte Macchiato to its espresso menu while offering seasonal LTOs like the Vermont Maple Walnut Muffin and Chocolate Cookie Dough Cake Pop.

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