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Quick-service pasta chain Noodles and Co. announced in early October 2015 that the company would remove all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners from its core menu items and phase antibiotics out of its meat and poultry supply by 2017. Noodles and Co. is just one more in a growing list of restaurant chains and food companies taking steps to reduce food additives. Chipotle has led this trend; popular brands like Panera, Kraft and even McDonald’s have followed with their own steps toward ingredient transparency.
As the research stacks up, grocerants will need to follow suit to stay competitive with foodservice. A “Health and Wellness 2015” report by Bellevue, Wash.-based Hartman Group finds that 65 percent of shoppers look for foods and beverages that are minimally processed and contain only ingredients they recognize. Another 60 percent look for foods and beverages with the shortest lists of ingredients. And while product labels are the source of only 19 percent of health and wellness information for those surveyed by Hartman Group, this figure has grown 4 percent in just two years.
Consumers looking for clean labels on grocery store shelves expect the same of prepared foods, say industry observers. At Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers LLC, corporate executive chef Deanna Stephens is part of an effort to make sure her customers find what they want throughout the three store banners: BI-LO, Harveys and Winn-Dixie. She started coming clean with items like collard greens, lima beans and corn, side dishes that are sourced locally to each store. Next up: Stephens is working with current suppliers and new clean-ingredient suppliers to spread these changes throughout the chain’s prepared food programs.
“We are getting the message loud and clear from consumers that this is what they want,” Stephens says.
“Our first step was to ensure all staff members were on the same page for defining clean food,” she adds. “With six chefs working among 750 total stores, we’ve needed to educate the deli managers in each setting on what clean food means. I try to keep it as simple as possible: Clean means having the least amount of additives and preservatives possible.”
- Working with trusted suppliers and developing new partnerships for clean ingredients
- Starting small by boosting transparency for sides and condiments
- Signage to identify where “non-GMO,” “antibiotic-free” and other clean labels apply