Jack Li, Builder at Datassential, 
 and NTF Advisory Board Member with Jaclyn Marks, Publications Specialist at Datassential

The majority of consumers consider healthy eating a top priority, but what exactly does healthy eating mean today? Rather than focusing on traditional weight management, many consumers are now turning to feel-good foods that highlight sourcing (think sustainable, cage-free, hormone-free, and all-natural) as well as foods with functional benefits (energy-sustaining, high-protein). For example, according to Datassential’s New Healthy Keynote Report, veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, yogurt, eggs, and lean proteins like turkey form a healthy core and can be leveraged in menu items to communicate healthiness to the consumer. Foodservice operators looking for ways to increase menu profitability should feature turkey as part of their strategy. It’s an underutilized functional yet flavorful food that works across dayparts, including snacking.

Snacking occasions now outnumber traditional daypart meals (94% of consumers have eaten a snack within the past day, according to Datassential’s Snacking Keynote Report), creating an opportunity for operators to leverage health-conscious, high-protein snack foods that will sustain energy throughout the day. and are highly sought after by consumers. A simple snack format on the rise is protein-rich, non-traditional jerky (42% of consumers are interested in it, according to our data) in a variety of flavors, including turkey, that could provide customers on-the-go or those dining-in with an easily accessible source of energy-boosting protein. Due to its flexibility, non-traditional jerky has the potential to appear in a wide range of creative applications at restaurants, from a savory beverage garnish to serving as a platform for unique global flavors. Beyond jerky, operators could look to position as snacks some handheld entrée items they might already have on their menu, such as turkey sliders or sandwiches with functional benefits, particularly in the afternoon and early evening when consumers are more likely looking for a savory, entrée-type snack.

For innovative ways to integrate lean protein into entrées that can double as snacks, look no further than turkey to feature in some of the latest trending carriers like bowls, banh mi sandwiches, and avocado toast. Kansas City-based t.Loft exemplifies healthy eating with its tag line “clean eats,” and its signature Meal Bowls and breakfast Scramble Bowls that include Turkey Veggie Bowl, which showcases eggs with turkey, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, red peppers, eggs, salsa, and buffalo sauce, menued with the calorie count prominently displayed. Even the kids’ menu has a functional-food focus with the Lunch Box including turkey squares, PB protein balls, apple slices, and carrot sticks. Also, consider the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, which has grown 393% on menus since 2012, according to Datassential’s 2017 Sandwich Keynote Report, and though it typically features pork, cilantro, and pickled veggies on a baguette, the sandwich can appear with spins such as Denver-based Root Down’s gluten-free Banh Mi Turkey Burger that piles sambal cream cheese, cilantro, sriracha mayo, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, and jalapeno between ciabatta. Lastly, trending avocado toast gets a protein boost at Studio City-based Mendocino Farms, with their Green Goddess Turkey Avocado Toast featuring shaved roasted turkey breast, avocado spread with wild rice and toasted sesame, vegan dressing, sprouts, and pickled radishes on toasted buckwheat.

For operators striving to leverage and increase snacking opportunities and functional foods, turkey is a great option to feature in a variety of applications and offer the protein benefits many consumers are now looking to as a way to sustain energy.