Monday, January 3, 2011

2011: A year of less?

The new year is only a few days old, but a 2011 trend is already showing on restaurant menus. If the trajectory holds, this is going to be 12 months of subtraction, as in yanking out calories or additives—or, in the case of Panera Bread Co., both.

This week my local Panera mixed a new option into its rotation of soups: All-Natural Chicken Noodle, with a mere 130 calories per serving. I can attest that it was good. Darn good, in fact, though I acknowledge a bias toward anything that reduces guilt and the consumption of nasty chemicals.

But it wasn’t as good as the store’s previous addition, an all-natural steak chili made from brisket and served with cornbread cubes. It gets a higher grade despite having a higher calorie count.

I know about the calories because they’re now posted on the menu board, as they’ll soon be depicted in California because of mandates passed some time ago. You have to wonder if that’s a factor for this latest less-is-more movement.

Then again, I don’t think Culver’s operates in any areas with calorie-disclosure requirements. Yet the Midwestern burger and frozen custard specialist officially kicked off a promotion today of what it’s calling Mindful Choices, or meals containing fewer than 500 calories. The components were already offered. What’s new is spotlighting them as a packaged meal.

The other factor clearly coming into play is the propensity of consumers to include losing weight among their New Year’s resolutions. Indeed, Applebee’s is playing off that wave of pledges with its newest menu additions, which include two reduced-calorie cocktails. The mojito and Long Island Iced Tea join a 100-calorie margarita introduced last year to form a new SkinnyBee drink line.

The chain also extended its array of entrée selections with fewer than 550 calories.

All in all, 2011 is shaping up to be a year of shaping up.

No comments: