Because they are nutrient-dense with phytochemicals thought to confer healthful benefits and blessedly free of nutritional negatives, you’d think superfoods would play a bigger role on restaurant menus. They don’t, even though a powerful trend toward healthful eating has created a market segment eager to eat them. Now a fast casual franchise and a leading hotel chain are showing other operators how they might cash in on the superfood trend.
“Superfoods” is an umbrella term that covers antioxidant rich berries, several varieties of nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens and many citrus fruits. Some definitions include certain whole grains and even seafood rich in omega 3s. It’s easy to incorporate many of these items into dishes hard-core wellness fans will order and enjoy. But it’s a lot trickier to sell superfoods-based items to a mainstream audience.
How come? One question operators have to answer is how to position superfoods: are they a snack, a treat or a meal? Or should their use be confined to being an add-in ingredient for one or more existing menu items?
A handful of companies are going all in. Açai bowls are the featured superfood item at Rancho Santa Margarita-based fast casual chain Bowl of Heaven. The bowl’s base is a blend of fresh, frozen and exotic superfruits, with additional healthful ingredients arrayed on top.
Original offerings at the company’s three California units include The Seasider blend made from açaí, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, unsweetened vanilla almond milk and the company’s signature Maq 7 juice (maqui berry, açai, gao, Alaska blueberry, Chinese lycium, Siberian pineapple, and cili), plus bananas. It’s topped with organic (hemp, flax seed) granola, coconut, strawberries and honey.
The Popeye Blend, touted as the easiest way to get kids to eat healthy greens, contains açaí, strawberries, blueberries, fresh kale, fresh spinach, pineapple, apple juice, Maq 7 juice and bananas. The toppings are organic (hemp, flax seed) granola, bananas and honey.
Each of the five menu items is also available as a smoothie, without the toppings. In fact, Bowl of Heaven’s concept is similar to a smoothie shop in many ways. A trio of fresh-squeezed vegetable-fruit juice blends rounds out the short menu.
Bowl of Heaven has an açai bowl competitor in Southern California, Banzai Bowls, which has three units. Bowl of Heaven differs in that it has started to franchise outside of Southern California. Three of its six units are located out of state.
Two are in Idaho, with units in Boise and Eagle. There the concept is positioned as Bowl of Heaven Café and Anti-Aging Nutrition Center and serves a few cold-climate-friendly items (oatmeal, bagels, coffee) the others do not. Bowl prices here average $4.65 for a small, $6.50 for a regular and $8.45 for a large. Smoothie prices hover around $5.75 without nutritional add-ins.
There’s also a Bowl of Heaven outlet in Elko, NV; a unit in Mesa, AZ closed late last year.
Meanwhile, Kimpton Hotels are using superfoods to pump up the nutritional content of their wellness-inspired banquet menus via smoothie bars and trail mix stations.
"These new nutrition-packed menu options give our business travelers an opportunity to fuel both mind and body during a long day's worth of meetings," says John Inserra, executive v.p., restaurants for Kimpton. "We are always on the hunt for new ways to help travelers maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the road."
Event planners can choose from among several superfoods. Five different smoothies are sold as an add-on to breakfast, lunch or mid-meeting breaks. Here’s the list:
• Jump Start: Blueberries, bananas, Greek yogurt and flaxseed
• Om Sweet Om: Green tea, mango and papaya
• Ready, Set, Glow: Almond milk, acai berries, flaxseed and coconut
• Hug Yourself: Peanut butter, banana and dark chocolate
• Food for Thought: Strawberries, apples, oranges and wheatgrass
Clients who opt to offer trail mix stations can choose from a chef-selected lineup of nuts, dried fruits, berries and granola.
Kimpton offers this superfoods selection at all 58 of its hotels. The company also operates 67 restaurants, bars and lounges across the U.S., giving it a broad national perspective on what customers do and don’t want to eat. If Kimpton thinks it’s worth giving superfoods a shot, other operators might want to follow suit.