With 2017 off to a fresh start, the adage “out with the old, in with the new” is the mindset many limited-service brands are applying to all areas of their business—marketing included. That’s why some better-for-you concepts are taking a hard look at the words and phrases they use to set themselves apart in an increasingly saturated segment of the industry.
“There are so many new concepts out there that are better for you, and they’re all using different language to find their own niche,” says Jason Wright, group strategy director at marketing firm The VIA Agency.
That means it’s time to say goodbye to rote words like local and sustainable—catchwords used so frequently by better-for-you brands that they’ve begun to have little meaning or differentiating power in the eyes of choosy consumers. So what are some of the buzzy new words replacing old favorites? Here are just a few of the most popular.
With chefs holding near-celebrity status in every segment of the restaurant industry, brands are capitalizing on the movement by putting them at the center of everything they do. At Beefsteak—a veggie-focused concept created by James Beard–winning chef José Andrés—the brand is proud to push its chef-driven menu as a way to signify its food is heartier and multi-dimensional, says executive chef Pat Peterson.
“Chefs take the time to create layers and dimension in taste, in texture, in lightness and darkness, in acidity, in salt,” Peterson says. “They balance all those things together to create this experience where you not only enjoy the first bite you have, but halfway through it, you’re still enjoying it, and you’re scraping down to the bottom of the bowl.”
Consumers’ growing demand for healthier, higher-quality items at fast-casual prices goes hand-in-hand with pushing a chef-driven menu, Peterson says.
Open kitchens aren’t exactly a new concept, but they’re just one example of brands prioritizing transparency at every level of the operation. Peterson says Beefsteak’s assembly line allows guests to see every aspect of Beefsteak’s open model, from cutting fresh vegetables to assembling bowls.
Allowing customers to watch their food being prepped and cooked in front of them implies that there’s nothing bad or unhealthy to hide in the food or the restaurant. “When you can’t see things, you make things up,” says Zach Weprin, cofounder and CEO of Ohio-based sushi concept Fusian. “When you open up your kitchen and your line, there is nothing to hide, so you can see us filleting a tuna right in front of you; you can see us filleting a salmon; you can see us cutting the veggies. It’s part of that show and that experience that we want people to see as they’re walking through our restaurant.”
But transparency isn’t just about allowing customers to physically watch their food being prepared. It also has to do with the transparency of what’s in their food—or what’s not in their food, when it comes to things like preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. “People want to see what’s on the label,” Peterson says. “They don’t want hidden ingredients. They want it all out in front of them.”
Raw (or simple)
Just as guests are craving cleaner foods and the ability to know exactly what’s in the dishes they’re eating, they’re also searching for simpler items—many of which come in their most basic, raw form.
“There’s been a big movement toward raw foods and appreciating ingredients for what they are,” says Drew Crane, cofounder of New York City–based poké concept Wisefish Poké. “With poké, it’s generally a raw dish, so the ingredients really shine at the forefront.”
Marketing “simple” food lets consumers know that a brand doesn’t have to hide poor quality behind cooking methods, but can let the food speak for itself instead, Crane adds.
“What that triggers for people is this understanding that it hasn’t been messed with, it hasn’t been touched, it hasn’t been tainted by the things they see are happening in the world of processed foods,” Wright says.
While this dietary term was once relegated strictly to dedicated vegans, Beefsteak’s Peterson says diners are now more flexible with the definition and attracted to the idea. Some are choosing to eat vegan a few days a week or only at certain meals. “It’s not just about the vegans that eat that way every day, every meal anymore,” he says. “It’s about a good chunk of the consumers out there who occasionally want a delicious vegan meal.”
That’s why brands like Beefsteak are making a concerted effort to offer options beyond just the typical portobello mushrooms and black-bean burgers. To that end, Beefsteak scouted out a local vegan bakery to produce a brioche-like bread for one of its signature offerings, the Beefsteak Tomato Burger.
Responsibly sourced and ethically raised
While “sustainably sourced” is one of the oversaturated phrases used in the industry, many brands are now touting their “responsibly sourced” and “ethically raised” menu items instead.
When Wisefish launched, Crane says, its team found a large number of irresponsible fishing methods and fisheries. “We wanted to make sure we were sourcing fish in a responsible way that was sustainable,” he says. “The way we think about sustainability is really simple in that we want to make sure the things we enjoy today are going to be here for our children and our children’s children.”
The idea of responsibly sourced items goes back to transparency and guests wanting to know where their food comes from, Weprin says. Fusian’s tuna comes from Southeast Asia, for example, and is long-line caught one at a time. Weprin says telling that story paints a better picture as to the product’s origins.
As popular phrases and catchwords come and go in all segments of the industry, Crane says, customers’ chief concern continues to be the menu items that back them up. “I think the words definitely pique interest in folks, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the quality of the food you’re serving,” he says.
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