Feature Article - September 2005
Find a printable version here

Eater's Digest

Concessions and food service for increasingly health-conscious consumers

By Kara Spak


COMMON SENSE FOR CONSUMERS

Though, again, time-honored concession fare still stands its ground. For many fans, the customary hot dog at a ball game is as American as, well, apple pie. Of course, in sensible moderation.

Suzanne Farrell, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says she tells clients it's OK that an occasional trip to the ballpark can include the traditional hot dog.

"For the person who rarely goes to the game, if they really want a hot dog, have a healthy breakfast and lunch," Farrell says. Those meals should include plenty of fruit and whole grains, she says.

For those people who more regularly attend ball games or travel to amusement parks, Farrell suggests scouting out the menu, looking for items like submarine sandwiches and smoothies.

Farrell says smoothies can be a "great way" to get your daily intake of vitamins and minerals. But watch the portion size, she says.

"Stick with a small or medium," she advises concession patrons.

Bigelow, the Kansas City-based concession consultant, says one trend in newer facilities with more space and more cooking capacity is designing and offering more made-to-order foods. The concessions salads that were once made from meager iceberg lettuce and a mealy tomato wedge trapped in a Styrofoam box, now are being replaced by fresh, made-to-order mixed salads bursting with a variety of greens, vegetables, meats and cheeses. What the customer wants, the customer gets with made-to-order.

"There's been some moderate success with made-to-order," he says.

Ethnic food, like Asian stir-fry, may have the appeal of healthier eating, Bigelow says. Kosher hot dogs have been successful in some markets, while the success of vegetarian items like soy hot dogs and veggie burgers also may depend on the market, he says.


SIMPLE SUCCESS STORIES:
SANDWICHES AND SMOOTHIES

Just because a concession food is healthy doesn't mean it has to suffer in terms of quality and taste. Indeed, successful and healthy concession products are those that marry health benefits and sumptuous flavor. Marketing, experts say, should emphasize both.

Two big success stories of the recent healthy fast-food and concession movements have been sandwiches and fresh-fruit smoothies.

Hot and cold sandwich sales are on the rise for national sandwich chains, says Les Winograd, a public relations coordinator for one such chain with nearly 19,000 franchises in the United States, including many at waterparks, theme parks and stadiums.

Since the 1960s, sandwich outlets have been offering essentially the same product—comfort food, he says. But in the 1990s their marketing began to emphasize the health benefits of sandwiches over burgers and fries. Big sales followed.

"Sandwiches are already something you like," he says. "An added benefit is that it's good for you."

Now, sandwiches like turkey and chicken are among the most popular at concession venues, he says.

Fruit smoothies likewise are seeing increasing popularity, from beachside concession stands to venues inside health clubs to county fairs. Fruit smoothies, or the mix of fresh fruit with ice or frozen yogurt, can be seen as an alternative to sugary soda pop or even can substitute for a meal.

Popular smoothies also can emphasize their benefits for the body with the additions of items like protein powder or wheat germ.

"We're moving to the direction of a healthy indulgence," says Lydia Wanders, a spokeswoman for a national smoothie chain. "This is decadence without the guilt."