Feature Article - September 2005
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Eater's Digest

Concessions and food service for increasingly health-conscious consumers

By Kara Spak


SURVEYS SAY

A survey by the American Dietetic Association in 2002, the most recent available, showed American consumers were more conscious than ever before about what they were eating. They are seeking out health information and making more and more healthy choices than anytime in the past decade, according to the association's national survey "Nutrition and You: Trends 2002."

Responding to questions about nutrition and exercise, 38 percent of Americans says they made adjustments in their eating patterns to become healthier eaters, an increase from the 28 percent of Americans responding to similar questions in 2000.

America's future consumers already are choosing healthier foods for snacks, according to a research study by the NPD Group, a marketing research firm. Fresh fruit apparently is the snack food of choice for boys and girls ages 2 through 12, according to the results of the group's study released in June 2005.

Concessionaires are finding success meeting the demand, not by grabbing and holding on tight to the latest fad diet or food fashion but by offering more of the fresh, nutritious products that, unlike diet products of the past, taste really great.

Sandwiches and smoothies are two items that are becoming ubiquitous in amusement parks, health clubs and stadiums. Ethnic foods and foods celebrating a local identity also are pushing healthier items onto the menu, experts say. And vegetarian items, though far from being the top seller, are meeting a certain market niche that may be growing.

Traditionalists can rest easy. Hot dogs and chicken fingers aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Customers will likely always associate concession stands with fried or broiled items and snacks like popcorn, Sno Cones and cotton candy. But with an increasing emphasis on healthy lifestyles for both children and adults, concession venues can easily, affordably and successfully branch their menus out to offer more nutritious options.

Concession venues have tried with some limited success at promoting healthier items, says Chris Bigelow, president of The Bigelow Companies, Inc., a food concession consulting business.

According to Bigelow, the biggest and most successful health craze to hit the concession business in the last decade was the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet. And unlike many of the fad diets of the past, this one has lasted, Bigelow says.

There are other signs the wind may be shifting when it comes to concession stands offering a more healthy variety of options, he adds. Premium levels of concessions, like stadium clubs and catered boxes, are offering less fast food and more nutritious (and higher end) products like sushi and crab cakes. Still, a top seller in stadium suites in chicken fingers, he says.

Also, national fast-food chains are starting to offer more low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium items while highlighting on their menus those offerings that might be appealing to customers with dietary needs.

"Normally, concessions kind of lag behind [fast food]," Bigelow says. "If you see [a fast-food trend] taking off, increasing the options, you will see it [in concessions]. People do associate ballparks with fast food."