A change for the better?
Revamping your menu to make things healthier can pay dividends with a more nutrition-focused public, but how should you manage the transition? We ask the experts for their views
Nowadays, we are inundated with information about health and nutrition on a daily basis. For anyone running a cafe, it can be hard to stay on top of things – be it official guidelines or just food trends – but an ongoing shift in awareness and dietary preferences and requirements means that customers are weighing up their options more than ever before. Healthy eating and drinking have well and truly moved into the mainstream, and it isn’t just at home that people are seeking out better options.
“Wellness and well-being are really booming at the moment,” confirms Rivkah Maya, a registered nutritional therapist and health coach. “People want more choices, whether that’s vegan,gluten-free, dairy-free – consumers are becoming more health- conscious and cafes need to up their game to meet that.”
In terms of common cafe products, the main ‘red flags’ tend to be items with refined carbohydrate content and high sugar, says Maya, such as white bread, cakes, pastries and foods with lots of white flour in, which often contain extra sugar and more processed fats. In particular, the much-discussed ‘free sugars’ have become perhaps the headline item to avoid or minimise. The accepted definition is any sugar that has been added to food and drink, plus those sugars found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit juices, including smoothies.
Government guidelines state that free sugars shouldn’t make up 18 more than 5% of daily calorie intake for adults, with 30g of these sugars being the recommended maximum per day. Figures from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey published by Public Health England show that intake of these free sugars was at least double the recommended maximum during 2008-2017, despite levels falling from previous years. One of the biggest issues is that it’s not always obvious where these red flags occur. Even if you think your menu avoids unhealthy choices, hidden sugars and fats can still appear in many items. “A lot of food and drinks served in cafes can be filled with hidden sugars,” says Maya. “Take hot drinks – anything with syrups or sweetened milks or cream – those things that make them taste amazing! I don’t think people realise how much sugar and processed stuff has been put in to make them taste like that.”
Perhaps more confusingly – both for customers and cafe owners buying-in stock – seeking out ‘low-fat’ and ‘low-sugar’ options can actually be counterproductive. “I get my clients to avoid things that are labelled ‘low-fat’,” says Maya, “as these foods often have more hidden sugars or processed carbohydrates to make up the flavour and fill out the product. It’s confusing for the consumer, and I think it is misleading.”
Another common trap that both customers and cafe operators can fall into is assuming that some foods are healthier than they actually are. An artisan Italian pastry with fresh fruits andseeds on top, for example, or a baguette filled with premium-quality, organic Manchego, handmade in front of you.
“People can get lured-in by the freshness of something, but you don’t always know what else is in that item,” says Maya. “And eating some good, organic cheese doesn’t outweigh the impact on the body of eating a huge white baguette, which is basically just pure sugar.”
With that in mind, cafes really can stand out from the crowd by offering truly healthy options. 19 These don’t have to be complicated or fancy, either: providing simple, nutritious choices on a menu will resonate with customers and show that you’re keen to provide them with better products, whatever their dietary choices.
There’s plenty of research on how diets are changing, but one recent example is the annual Waitrose Food and Drink Report 2018-2019, which surveyed 2,000 people across the UK – not just Waitrose customers. The report found that almost 13% of the population is now vegetarian or vegan, with a further 21% identifying as ‘flexitarian’.
Healthier purchasing is also rapidly becoming an increasing concern for many people. The European Shopper Insights Survey, published by market research agency IRI in October 2018, found that 42% of shoppers were willing to pay more for organic food, while research firm Mintel found that sales of plant-based alternatives to dairy milk grew by 9.4% in the UK during 2016-17, totalling £221 million. Tastes really are changing, it seems, and cafes need to cater for this shift.
Overall, the key message is to do something, rather than nothing, and start making changes sooner, rather than later. “I don’t see this as a trend or something that will slow down,” says Maya, “because it’s about people’s health. If businesses don’t respond to that, they’re going to lose out.”