Health continues to be the driving trend for menu development and product innovation in the limited-service restaurant space—and that’s not changing any time soon.

At this year’s National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, Jane Grote Abell, founder and chairman of Donatos Pizza; Susan Shields, CIO of Jamba Juice; and Greg Dollarhyde, CEO of Veggie Grill, joined moderator Aaron Noveshen, president of The Culinary Edge, in a discussion on winning consumers through menu innovation.

“In terms of health and wellness, we definitely think this trend is going to stay; it’s not a fad. I think the reason that is [is because] we are really understanding the correlation between diet and health,” Shields said during the panel, Winning Through Food.

Jamba Juice’s product development focuses on integrating better-for-you ingredients and menu platforms with a fun, enjoyable consumer experience, she added.

Gluten free is a facet of the healthy dining movement that speakers saw having a lasting impact on the industry. At Donatos Pizza, gluten-free crusts attract a segment of the population that normally cannot enjoy the dish, and that’s brought many families together in a way only pizza can, Grote Abell said.

While health trends may drive product innovation, Veggie Grill’s Dollarhyde said operators must keep in mind what the guest gives a brand permission to do. “You really do have to know who your target audience is and what’s in their head and what are they looking for,” he said. “You can develop a lot of stuff … but that’s the primer: What? Who?” 

Dollarhyde said that the product pipeline also takes careful timing and pacing—while it may be tempting to hop aboard the LTO bandwagon, this sort of innovation mindset can lead to mediocre products.

For traditional quick serves, like those in the pizza category, product innovation can strike a balance between offering new, creative menu items and delivering consistent quality, Grote Abell said.

“Being in business for 50 years… we used innovation as a means to stay consistent with our product because we believe our product that we’ve served since 1963, the quality and consistency of it is just as important as innovating for our customer,” she said. For example, Grote Abell’s father innovated Donatos equipment, creating a machine that could slice peperoni at the same thickness every time, ensuring an evenly cooked final product.

“Innovation is not just about products; it really does touch every element of the business,” Jamba’s Shields said.

By Tamara Omazic

Back of House, Beverage, Consumer Trends, Menu Innovations, News, Donatos, Jamba Juice, Veggie Grill