NUTRITION EXPERTS: (left to right) Enid Hohn, Patrice Barber, Wynelle Stein, Michael Halter, Mike Buzalka.
USC's Patrice Barber emphasized the nutrition education mission of foodservice operations.
Healthy Customers and Healthy Profitswas the theme of a one-day event in Anaheim on March 22, produced jointly by FM, its sister publication, Restaurant Hospitality magazine, and the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBHF). Held in advance of the Natural Products Expo West, which kicked off the next day at the Anaheim Convention Center, the FM/RH conference featured a slate of industry experts who discussed various aspects of healthy menu design as it relates to customer acceptance and revenue generation.
Following a series of presentations from the likes of Boston Market founder George Naddaff, author and Healthy Dining Program founder Anita Jones-Mueller, consultant Dr. Elizabeth Sloan and the PBHF's Elizabeth Pivonka and Linda Brugler, the final session was an operator panel chaired by FM Executive Features Editor Mike Buzalka including representatives from four different kinds of operations in the commercial and noncommerical foodservice sectors.
The panelists included:
- Patrice Barber, nutritionist for Trojan Hospitality, the in-house dining operation at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles;
- Enid Hohn, director of child nutrition services at Vista (CA) USD, a district with nearly 30,000 students;
Wynelle Stein, co-owner of the renowned vegetarian/natural foods Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY; and
- Michael Halter, managing partner of Lucia's Restaurant, an upscale Italian-themed eatery in Pacific Palisades, CA.
In her presentation, Barber discussed the growing demand on USC's campus for healthier dining options alongside traditional college favorites like burgers and pizza. Making USC's challenge even more daunting is the diverse and sophisticated student body, which expects high quality, authentic dishes representing various ethnic culinary traditions. Barber also emphasized the educational responsibility of Trojan Hospitality in conveying a healthy eating message, including proper nutrition habits, to students both in formal educational materials and in the menu mix.
Hohn emphasized the strategies she and her department have been pursuing in making healthier food options available to the children in her district, which sits in Southern California between Los Angeles and San Diego. Of particular interest is the district's vending program, which she manages and through which she has been able to offer healthier snack and beverage options for several years. She also plans to use the program to introduce vended reimbursable school lunch meals that could take the pressure off the serving lines and offer students a convenient alternative.
Stein projected Moosewood's wellknown commitment to healthy, natural eating, especially as it relates to the expectations of today's customers. A co-author of nine Moosewood Collective cookbooks, Stein brought both a culinary and marketing perspective to her comments about the need for both the industry and the public to embrace the principles of healthy eating.
Halter, a veteran restaurateur who grew up in the business, was if anything even more passionate about the need to menu healthful alternatives as a responsibility the foodservice industry has to its customers. He emphasized how at Lucia's he practices what he preaches, with high-quality ingredients— many locally sourced—menued in portions that encourage diners to savor their food rather than simply ingest it.
In earlier presentations, healthy dining was approached from various angles. Naddaff provided realworld examples from his long career as to why he believes healthier foods are the wave of the future, while Sloan, a former editor-in-chief of McCall's magazine and director of the Good Housekeeping Institute, reviewed overall foodservice trends as they relate to healthy eating.
Pivoka's presentation focused on consumer perceptions about healthful diets, and Brugler augmented that discussion with a presentation about successful nutrition marketing strategies. Finally, Jones-Mueller unveiled a new national Healthy Dining marketing campaign that in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Restaurant Association, will promote restaurants that offer more healthful menu selections.