“We see an increasing number of guests choosing the multigrain bread,” says Jeremy Martin, director of procurement for the 11-unit, Boston-based company. “We also have a wheat option, but multigrain is usually the choice.”
The company’s original multigrain bread has been adjusted over the years to include additional grains and seed types.
“People are definitely looking for a healthier option, and multigrain has that overall perception of being a better choice,” Martin says. “When people try it, they come back for it.”
While ciabatta is the main sandwich carrier at Denver-based Modmarket, the 10-unit fast-casual restaurant expanded its use of multigrain bread, which is part of some special sandwiches and served with select soups and salads.
“We began using it as toast for breakfast,” says cofounder Anthony Pigliacampo. “We didn’t want boring wheat toast, and this is not your typical grocery-store multigrain. It’s got lots of seeds and nuts, so it’s a hardy piece of bread.”
Five years ago, featuring multigrain in so many items might have created a pushback from customers. “Today, healthier is moving to the top of guests’ requests,” Pigliacampo says.
The bread includes only flour, water, yeast, and salt, with no preservatives. The flour includes ancient grains.
The Salmon Club sandwich is one of Modmarket’s specialty menu items made with multigrain bread. Between the slices are citrus-grilled, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, bacon aioli, basil, tomato, and arugula, ingredients that “balance well with the bread,” Pigliacampo says.
Another way to get healthier bread is by offering less of it. Potbelly Sandwich Shop, for example, features thin-cut slices with one-third less bread, so it has fewer calories and carbohydrates.
A number of other limited-service companies have added flatbread, which also has fewer calories and carbs. Freshly baked flatbread has long been the signature—and only—bread at Così, which has more than 110 units in the U.S.
“Our original, 400-year-old, European-style flatbread is a very traditional, pure style of baking, made in-house,” says R.J. Dourney, president and chief executive. “Our multigrain flatbread is baked the same way.”
The multigrain version was introduced less than a decade ago, but it’s now being chosen by more than half of Così’s customers, many of them younger, he says.
“When I was in my 20s, I didn’t know anything about nutrition, but today, young people really get it,” Dourney says. “It no longer can just be delicious. It has to be good for you.”
Increasingly, the healthier items taste great, he adds. “Until 10 or 15 years ago, healthy really had a negative halo, because a lot of the food tasted like twigs and stones. But our multigrain is spectacular.”
Pita is another low-calorie bread growing in popularity.
The menu at Chicago-based Roti Mediterranean Grill, which has 19 locations, features pita pockets used as sandwich-like carriers, and pita pieces that are served with salads and rice plates. Baked on the premises, the pita has about 100 calories for pieces and 200 calories for pockets. The salads and rice plates originally came with a large 200-calorie piece of pita bread, but that was reduced because it was too much for many guests.
“We decided to give them the first 100-calorie piece with the meal, and they could get the second one for free,” says Peter Nolan, Roti’s chief brand officer. “If you’re hungry, great, but we’ve made it easier to have a healthier option.”
Mediterranean-style restaurant Zoës Kitchen also has pita pockets—regular and wheat—in four menu items, as well as multigrain bread for regular sandwiches. “Our 12-grain bread, which we position with a lot of sandwiches, has 21 grams of whole grains per slice,” says Kyle Frederick, director of food and beverage for Zoës Kitchen, a Plano, Texas–based, 60-unit chain. “What you won’t find is artificial flavors and colors and high-fructose corn syrup. But we also have a lot of calorie-conscious customers, so our pita pockets have fewer calories but a lot of flavor.”
Nolan says Roti also features pitas in another health-conscious style: gluten free. The company is one of several operators to have gluten-free carriers; others include Jason’s Deli and Smashburger, which both use Udi’s gluten-free breads or buns.
“I had no idea there would be this kind of demand for gluten free,” says Jason’s Deli’s Herring. “It’s become very popular,” not only with diners who have allergic reactions to gluten, but also with many more guests who have a sensitivity to the ingredient, he says. Jason’s Deli takes extra steps to help prevent cross-contamination with items that have gluten by providing employees with kits that include a sterile knife, spatula, and gloves.
Gluten-free items have continued to improve with more flavor and textures that closely resemble breads with wheat.
“Many of them were gritty and dry and lacking flavor,” says Dana Spaeth, vice president and general manager of foodservice and industrial for Boulder Brands, Udi’s parent. “We have a special process, so we make a great bread product.”
Spaeth expects Udi’s to be in an increasing number of restaurants, as operators attempt to appeal to those diners seeking gluten-free items.
“We are engaged with most of the large quick-service restaurants in the country,” he says. “There is more and more interest in serving this large group of diners.”
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