Restaurants and consumers alike appear to have become jaded when it comes to the word organic on menus, largely because the word has been over-used and under-defined relative to its meaning for healthy, desirable eating.  But, according to a recent survey of terminology appearing on restaurant menus, terms such as gluten-free, signature, and freshly picked are gaining popularity.

While organic is still the leading ethical claim on casual-dining restaurant menus, its usage declined 28 percent between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2013, according to Mintel Menu Insights. Mintel’s report examines the impact and usage of ethical menu claims, such as organic, gluten-free, locally sourced, and homemade

The drop in organic claims on menus ties into the overall trend of consumers looking for more meaningful information from their menus, says Julia Gallo-Torres, category manager of US foodservice Oxygen reports. Consumers want to determine the quality of their food, and “they are looking for information on whether the food is fresh, freshly prepared, [and] does it have good nutrition,” Gallo-Torres says.

“What we are seeing is that consumers are looking for guidance on the menu,” she explains. “A couple of years ago, if a menu item said organic, it would sell. But the organic claim doesn’t deliver enough information. Consumers are also so jaded; they have organic fatigue. There’s been so much controversy around the term—what does it mean anymore?”

The claim gluten-free, on the other hand, is “just exploding” on menus, says Gallo-Torres. Gluten-free posted a 200 percent increase on menus between 2010 and 2013, and accounted for 40 percent of the total growth in ingredient nutritional claims, which indicate that certain foods can contribute to general health, on menus.

To that end, Mintel Menu Insights also found that casual-dining consumers are looking for foods that are homemade. The assertion made from scratch is contributing 10 percent to the overall growth of all restaurant menu claims, Mintel reports.

Also tying into this trend is the growth of claims such as original recipe, freshly picked, farmstead, and farm style. “Consumers want to know where their food is coming from, that it is wholesome, and that it is processed in a wholesome way,” says Gallo-Torres.

As operators try to signal that their offerings are one of a kind, signature as a marketing claim grew 34 percent.

In the near future, expect to see more menu claims of foods that are allergen-free, says Gallo-Torres, as allergy-conscious dishes represent another area of growth for casual-dining restaurants.

By Joann Whitcher

Health & Nutrition, Industry News, Marketing & Promotions