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November is World Vegan Month, the perfect opportunity for your restaurant to experiment with alternative menu specials. In part 2 of the Better Food, Better Profits series we explore one of the hottest trends in the foodservice industry for 2021-2022 – clean label food.

The ‘Clean Label’ movement is part of the rising trend in consumer consciousness driven by the aspiration for improved personal and planetary health. Simply put – it means using fewer, safer and many times simpler ingredients. 

Restaurants that act now and start using clean label products will bring in more customers and increase sales. More importantly, they will be able to charge more and increase profits. Here’s how.

What Is Clean Label Food?

The definition of ‘clean label’ depends on who’s defining it. From a marketing perspective, it is a buzz word open to interpretation by consumers and brands. From a regulatory  perspective, as defined by the Clean Label Project, it is about introducing safety, quality and transparency to the markett by “changing the definition of food and consumer product safety in America with a long-term view on environmental and public health.”

We can, however, simmer it down to a few basic concepts. 

Food as close as possible to its basic natural state. Fewer, simpler ingredients that are less processed and come from natural sources. Less additives, allergens and preservatives.

As our Chef Chris always says, “no additives or ingredients that your Granny wouldn’t recognize.” 

In a broader sense, clean label also refers to being transparent about what is in a product, as well as the sustainability and ethical impact of its production. 

Although clean label may seem akin to the organic trend – beware. Not all organic foods are ‘clean’, and vice versa. An investigation into protein powders, for example, actually found organic-labelled products contain on average over 2X the heavy metals like lead, arsenic and cadmium compared to non-organic products. 

The nuance is that most chemicals and base metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and others that find their way into products are not listed on the label. For consumers, the easiest way around this problem is to consume food that consists of fewer ingredients.

Could Clean Label Become a ‘Mega Trend’?

The demand for clean label products is rising in every industry, from beauty products to furniture to food. 

Clean label has been around since the ‘80s, but according to Google Search Trends and social media, interest doubled around 2017. 

During that year, the Clean Label Project (CLP) released a report showing 80% of infant formulas and other food products contained arsenic. Surveys immediately showed that consumers were willing to pay 75% more for products with ingredients they trust.

Since then, many supermarkets publish ingredient lists, like Chipotle’s clean list or Whole Foods’ blacklist, that exclude some well known carcinogens or environmentally unsound ingredients. 

Most businesses, however, overlook the health impacts of sodium and sugar, especially in beverages. Thus, a clean label doesn’t necessarily mean a clean bill of health.

The trend is strengthening and the clean label demographics are intriguing to examine.. Millennials frequently question if menu items are gluten-free, fair trade and vegan, while Baby Boomers focus on the sugar and fat content of their meal. Generation X will rely on what you tell them is good for them – but you have to tell them. 

The clean label trend is on the verge of becoming a national dietary norm. US and EU regulatory offices have already put in place clearer labelling regulations and the process of production, not only ingredients, is likely to soon be part of the information required as well. 

How Clean Label Can Help Restaurants

Anything that helps restaurants work quicker, cheaper or easier is generally what they opt for. Be it heavy duty detergents, extra-rise flour or even using  real avocados. Yes, the deliciously in demand fruit requires a record 320 liters of water to grow a single avocado to maturity. These days are coming to an end. 

Consumers now want transparency regarding the health, environmental impact and ethics of the food they consume. Diners are savvy and already understand the environmental impact of some foods, such as avocado, and will be eager for a more ethical alternative. Most importantly, they are willing to pay more for cleaner food. How much more? Between 10% to 75% more.

Any restaurant that finds ways to use fewer ingredients and more natural products without compromising taste, nutritional value, and ethicality will benefit from the clean label trend.

Let Diners Know Your Restaurant Is Clean Label

A restaurant is not a supermarket. Patrons don’t have the ‘luxury’ of reviewing the label and ingredients list. That’s why actively providing the right information to diners is crucial for turning effort into profit. 

The reason for the higher menu prices need to be explained, proudly and in fun, educational ways. Clean products cost more, fresh costs more, social benefits cost more, and locally sourced means labor and resources may cost more. 

Consumers are very receptive to this and are using their money to be healthier and take part in the effort to save our planet and communities. Use this to your advantage.

3 Steps to Label Your Restaurant ‘Clean’

Step 1

The fact is, most restaurants are already ‘clean label’ and they just didn’t know it. You may be using all natural ingredients, making your own mayo, buying free range organic eggs and using herbs from your own garden. Take a moment to rec ognize this and develop a plan to promote it.. 

Step 2

Next, take a look at your ingredient list and find places where you can swap inorganic, factory farmed products with clean alternatives. Pace yourself and work with your chefs or reach out to Cheetah to find clean label alternatives. 

Here are some examples: 

  • Make a real broth instead of using soup cubes or powder.
  • Use real tomatoes instead of pastes which are full of preservatives. 
  • Choose unbleached flour.

>>> Cheetah’s Catalog has a wide range of clean label products and basic ingredients.

Step 3

Marketing, marketing, marketing. Evaluate your client base and choose words that trigger and speak to their concerns. Is there a predominance of a specific generation or gender identity? 

Once you understand what works for your patrons, do the following: 

  • Name all the ingredients in your dishes in clear terms.
  • Add a small note on your menu and website about the way you source and choose ingredients.
  • Prepare a one liner for every dish you have so that your serving staff can give a quick mention when they serve it. For example: “Did you know that these tomatoes were sourced right here in The Bay Area?” or “Did you know this tortilla was made using unbleached gluten-free flour?” 
  • Does your restaurant use QR code menus? Great! Go wild with an entire page about your clean label initiatives. No need to print new menus!

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