Healthy eating is a priority for a growing number of consumers, and the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast reports seven out of 10 consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options.
The challenge becomes connecting customers to the restaurants with the options that best suit their individual needs. Consequently, a number of mobile apps have emerged that steer consumers to those restaurants and help highlight the healthy items on their menus.
The website HealthyOut provides consumers with an intuitive tool that allows them to match healthy restaurant dishes to their specified health preferences, from low-carb to gluten-free. Founder Wendy Nguyen believes her mobile app differs from others because HealthyOut works with all restaurants—not just those focused on health—but displays only the dishes that meet HealthyOut standards for healthy nutrition.
“We want to only highlight the restaurant’s healthy dishes,” says Nguyen. “Every restaurant—from steakhouses to your neighborhood deli—has some healthy choices.”
The app also includes modifications to dishes that can make them healthier, which Nguyen says a number of other apps don’t do. “Remove the cheese and ditch the side serving of bread, and now an entrée that might not have been healthy meets our standards,” she says, which helps restaurants take existing items on their menu and make slight modifications so they become healthier.
Launched in 2012, the HealthyOut app is free to restaurants and consumers, and includes restaurant photos of food to help increase customer engagement. Plans call for online ordering to soon become available via the app. Already, the technology can identify healthy dishes on a menu and automatically add them to the app.
On the consumer side, HealthyOut allows users to define what is healthy in their own terms. Users simply access the website and select dietary and nutritional preferences such as vegetarian, low-carb, or gluten-free.
By working with HealthyOut since April 2013, Amy Luong, co-founder of Mooncake Foods, which has three locations in New York City, says the restaurants have attracted an audience that “might not necessarily think of us as healthy.”
Furthermore, she says that by making small adjustments to existing dishes, “we’ve been able to use our menu pretty much as is to service healthy diners. We can still serve the food we make, but do things like cut the rice portions in half or leave the sauces on the side.”
On the other side of the country, San Francisco startup GoPure is a directory service that works like a green-conscious version of Yelp. Diners simply type in the kind of food they want and a location, and GoPure provides options listed by price, proximity, and purity. Searches can be filtered with eating preferences like no GMO ingredients or locavore.
GoPure founder Brendan Murphy says many restaurants “go above and beyond” to source good-quality, sustainable ingredients, and serve healthy meals. However, major platforms such as Yelp and Google don’t credit restaurants for having done this, he notes.
By completing GoPure’s survey for merchants, restaurant operators can indicate sustainable practices—like if they serve grass-fed beef and organic vegetables, or recycle paper products—to help establish credibility in the sustainability ranking. Additionally, they are provided information on how to better source ingredients and be more environmentally sustainable.
The app, which launched last year in the San Francisco market, is free to restaurants and users, and is preparing for a nationwide roll-out.
When using the app, diners in San Francisco simply click on the “near me button” to call up full-service concepts around their location that serve the best-quality food. “Consumers can use it not only to choose a restaurant,” says Murphy, “but also to get a transparent view of the restaurant’s sourcing practices so they know what they’re eating before they go.”
In partnership with the National Restaurant Association, Healthy Dining recently created the Healthy Dining Finder app, providing an easily accessible guide to more than 4,000 menu items at more than 350 restaurant brands and 60,000 locations, sorted by zip code. The Healthy Dining program also includes the Kids LiveWell program, which highlights healthier items on children’s menus.
Restaurants that participate in the company’s Healthy Dining program are automatically included on the Healthy Dining Finder site at no cost, says Erica Bohm, vice president and director of strategic partnerships at Healthy Dining. Program participation also gives restaurants access to Healthy Dining’s team of dietitians, who either perform a nutrition analysis or validate the accuracy of the restaurant’s existing nutrition data.
The dietitians then determine which menu items meet the Healthy Dining program nutrition criteria, which are focused on lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats—as well as benchmarks for calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium. The restaurant’s qualifying menu items are then featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com, and consumers can search for restaurants alphabetically and geographically.
Available at no cost to consumers, Healthy Dining Finder provides diners with a streamlined resource for finding healthier choices at restaurants throughout the U.S. “A growing segment of restaurant guests want to eat healthier and access nutrition information, but they don’t want to spend a lot of time logging onto different restaurant websites and wading through charts of numbers,” says Bohm. “Healthy Dining’s dietitians make it easy and remove the guesswork by consolidating the information in one place.”
A collaboration from lifestyle platform SHFT.com and Ford Motor Company produced Food Tripping, which helps users find healthier, tasty alternatives to fast food virtually anywhere in the U.S. There are plenty of healthy choices cited among the growing database of eateries, healthy food markets, farmers’ markets, juice joints, artisans, microbreweries, and organic coffee spots.
Peter Glatzer, co-founder of SHFT.COM, says the company’s mission is to convey a more sustainable approach to the way society lives through film, design, art, and food. Already, he has seen a shift in people’s perspective on food and what it means to them: “We’ve always maintained that food is a great entry point for people to see what works for them in terms of adopting a broader, more sustainable approach to the way we live.”
Restaurants can submit their information at the SHFT website and a Food Tripping associate will review it to see if the restaurant fits the criteria for serving healthy, sustainable menu options. If so, it will be included in the app’s master database.
GPS-based Food Tripping also encourages consumers to share “hidden gems” they find when eating out. “We want to help users find the lesser known spots that might be more local in flavor and off the beaten path,” says SHFT.COM co-founder Adrian Grenier.