ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS, U.S. — Quick-service restaurants creating whole grain items need to consider two groups: health-seekers and a fast-and-familiar group, said Kelly Toups, director of the Whole Grains Council of Oldways.
Health-seekers want worthy items and convenience, but they also want to feel good about what they eat, Toups said Sept. 26 in Rosemont, Illinois, U.S., at the Whole Grains Council event “Whole Grains in Foodservice, the Next Frontier.”
“Millennials are definitely helping drive this trend,” she said.
“If they’re looking for it, and you have it, you’re pretty much good to go,” Toups said.
The fast-and-familiar group seeks familiar items that are convenient, she said. Health is not their highest priority at a restaurant and might even be a deterrent. Many of these people did not grow up eating ancient grains like quinoa or teff.
The people in the fast-and-familiar group thus may be willing to try those whole grains since they have no negative perceptions.
Restaurants also have the option of adding whole grains into existing products gradually and quietly. Toups gave the example of Kraft Heinz taking out artificial colors and flavors out of its macaroni and cheese without promoting the removals. Consumers did not notice, and months later Kraft Heinz called it the world’s largest blind taste test.
Newer restaurant concepts such as Roti, Modern Mediterranean, Lyfe Kitchen, Sweetgreen and Freshii came into existence already offering whole grain options.
“It’s easier for these concepts, frankly,” she said. “They’ve been doing it from day one. Their customers are the ones who expect it.”
“Granted, that’s a very large bagel, but it’s not where we’re seeing the minimum: Let’s just get by with some whole grains but really be doing the same-old, same-old,” Harriman said. “These are some groundbreaking things from some mainstream restaurants.”
She also pointed to a Subway flatbread.
American consumers may be warming up to the tastes of whole grains. Harriman pointed to a 2015 Whole Grains Council survey that found 37% of people cited taste as a barrier to eating whole grains but another 40% of people said taste was a reason why they eat whole grains.
“That taste-o-meter has gone from negative to neutral, over to positive,” Harriman said.