Restaurant goers may be cutting back on their spending, but one category seems to be holding its own, and more: health-focused concepts.
As evidence, consider three high-profile brands that have become media darlings:
â€˘ True Food Kitchen, launched in 2008 by Fox Restaurant Concepts in partnership with wellness guru Andrew Weil, just opened its fourth store in Santa Monica. and is on track for more. â€śTrue Food resonates more than anything Iâ€™ve ever done,â€ť says Fox Restaurantâ€™s c.e.o., Sam Fox. â€śPeople connect to it. We have some people who eat there four to five days a week.â€ť
â€˘ Elevation Burger, which sells 100 percent organic grass-fed beef and seeks LEED certification at its locations, opened its first franchise in 2009 and has already expanded to more than 20 units, with some 200 more in the works. Eater.com is calling Elevation Burger â€śthe next megachain.â€ť
â€˘ Two former McDonaldâ€™s execs and onetime Oprah Winfrey chef Art Smith will open the first LYFE (Love Your Food Every day) Kitchen in Palo Alto, CA, this month. LYFE, which is targeted to busy women, will spotlight under-600-calorie menu items, natural ingredients and a number of vegan items.
All three ideas are following the money. Study after study confirms that better-heeled consumers are more likely to (and can better afford to) eat more healthfully. Still, for a huge number of Americansâ€”49 million, according to a University of California professor of medicineâ€”cost is the deciding factor when it comes to food.
Research by Technomic confirms an interest in better eating, but suggests that people donâ€™t always follow through on their intentions. Nearly half of those surveyed last fall said they wanted healthy menu items, but only about a quarter of them actively consider nutrition when eating in a restaurant.
â€śMany consumers are actually making substantial changes to their overall habits, even basing which restaurants they frequent in part based on their impressions of the healthfulness of the brands. However, as many of us know from personal experience, diners do not always follow through on their intentions once it is time to order.â€ť
Whether consumers stick to the healthy agenda or not, another likely reason these concepts are thriving is a commitment to sustainability, from the menu to facility design. A recent study by paper products maker SCA found that a majority of restaurant patrons would choose a green-friendly restaurant over a comparable one that is not. â€śCustomers are looking beyond the merits of the menu to the overall focus on sustainability throughout the restaurant,â€ť says Mike Kapalko, a sustainability marketing manager for the company. â€śCommitment to using locally grown food products in addition to green products and practices show the customer that the establishment is committed to a healthier planet.â€ť And 47 percent of those in the group surveyed said they expect to pay more at a green establishment.