Restaurant chains are marketing or adding better-for-you items in time to draw consumers who have made resolutions to lose weight and eat healthfully in 2013.
Many restaurant chains, including Panera, Applebee’s, Chili’s and others are rolling out or promoting lighter-fare menu items to court newly health-conscious consumers. Although few chains are running specific New Year’s resolution promotions, their menu additions acknowledge that consumers' increasing interest in lighter, more healthful fare.
Chili's is building upon its existing Lighter Choices menu and will promote it with digital media and email campaigns that will launch on January 1, according to Maureen Locus, a spokeswoman at Brinker International Inc., Chili’s parent company.
“Chili’s understands our guests want options to meet their lifestyles, and the Lighter Choices menu satisfies the needs of our health-conscious guests,” said Locus.
The chain is promoting options on its lighter-fare menu with an email to its Chili’s Email Club members featuring the tagline, “Eat Lighter This Year.” The campaign highlights two menu items, its Mango-Chile Tilapia, which has 620 calories, and its Mango-Chile, which has 580 calories. Both items were rolled out on Dec. 10, according to Locus.
In addition, the brand will promote the entire menu through Facebook and Twitter accounts, Locus said.
Like Chili’s, Applebee’s, a subsidiary of Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity Inc., is planning to highlight its lower-calorie menu items in the New Year. The company is adding two new menu items to its Unbelievably Great Tasting Under 550 Calories Menu on Jan. 1: Zesty Roma Chicken and Shrimp and Lemon Parmesan Shrimp. The Lemon Parmesan Shrimp is endorsed by Weight Watchers, said Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith.
“It’s more focused on flavor than the calorie count,” Smith said about the menu. “It’s having it all without giving up anything. Flavor comes first," he said, adding that the new campaign will include tops from chefs on how to add flavor without calories.
Although Applebee’s will be pushing its new menu items in January, the lighter-fare menu will be a "year-round focus" for the brand's culinary team, Smith said. “Our positioning on that is that we obsess over these things so you don’t have to.”
Similarly, Pollo Tropical continues to promote its “21 Days to a New You” plan that gives customers a 21-day plan for meals with fewer than 1,000 calories.
“It was based on the fact that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so the idea is that we’ve given people a meal plan,” said Lesly Ortiz, supervisor of marketing communications at Pollo Tropical, whose parent company, Fiesta Restaurant Group, is based in Addison, Texas. “It’s teaching people to really change their lifestyle versus just eating less for the next two weeks [and then getting off track]."
The chain introduced the 21-day plan a few years ago, Ortiz said. However, the company is always adding new items to the plan to keep things interesting.
Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is also building on an established menu. The company launched a new JalapeñoBurger Dec. 18, an addition to the company’s Men’s Health-approved turkey burger menu.
The inspiration behind the new turkey burger was to give customers a lot of flavor for not a lot of calories, said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer at CKE Restaurants in a statement. The Jalapeño Turkey Burger has 490 calories.
In a recent Twitter promotion of the new burger, the Carl's Jr. brand tweeted, "With only 490 calories in our NEW Jalapeno Turkey Burger, U can make a resolution to eat @CarlsJr every day."
In addition, Panera is introducing a handful of new “power items” in the New Year that are designed to be nutrient dense and provide sustained energy, said spokeswoman Emily Caine in an email. New items include a Spinach Power Salad and a fat-free power smoothie, which contains ginseng and organic nonfat Greek yogurt.
The St. Louis-based company is also adding two salmon dishes, the Mediterranean Salmon Salad and the Salmon Club, to its menu in January.