No doubt about it, more and more consumers want to eat healthy when they dine out. In fact, research shows that consumers’ interest in better-for-you fare has significantly increased in the last four years and shows no sign of slowing. Problem is, what consumers deem healthy never seems to stay the same. To succeed in the good-for-you game, operators need to better understand who these diners are, particularly what better-for-you foods they want and how much cash they’re willing to fork over for them.

Not so long ago, consumers looking to eat “healthy” when dining out were mostly fitness-obsessed folks from big cities. These days, this group of diners is much larger Adult Healthy Eating Patterns and more broad.  According to market research firm The NPD Group, consumers of every age—from teens on up to seniors—and from all parts of the country are motivated by healthy habits when dining out. Those most motivated are adults over age 65, and consumers living in the western regions of the country. Such a large, broad group makes for a big opportunity for operators.

A few years ago consumers generally associated healthiness with weight management and nutrition, but today consumers have a broader definition of health. Though they still associate healthy with weight control, today’s health-seeking diners are focused on features such as quality, fresh ingredients, portion choices, steamed/grilled/baked preparations, organic ingredients, all-natural ingredients, local ingredients, and trans-fat free.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, about 75 percent of consumers said they are trying to eat more healthfully at restaurants than they did two years ago, and most restaurants confirm that customers are indeed ordering more healthful items.

Those health-conscious consumers who aren’t actually ordering more healthful items cite a number of reasons. Among the main reasons is lack of options. Many consumers say they simply aren’t finding the kinds of foods they want on menus. If eateries had more choices, consumers say they’d order them more often.

Another barrier for health-conscious consumers is price.  Better-for-you items typically cost more than regular items, and, further skewing the value perception, tend to have less food on the plate, according to Datassential MenuTrends, which tracks more than one million items on foodservice menus. For example, the research shows that the average price of a turkey burger is $7.96 compared to just $7.28 for a regular hamburger. In addition, a turkey burger typically has fewer toppings than the regular burger.  While consumers want to order items like turkey burgers, the majority say they simply aren’t willing to pay a premium for less food.

In the end, it is clear that diners care about more than just nutrition. What they care about is more complex, and includes freshness, environmental concerns, animal welfare, local community support, and more. Whether independent, chain, corporate or institutional, operators need to understand this new definition of health and apply it to their brand. To fulfill consumers’ new desires and make a healthy profit from healthy fare, operators also need to make better-for-you options as appealing as regular options, in both taste and price.To help operators do just that, Basic American Foods has created standout recipes that appeal to diners looking for healthier fare—and even those that aren’t.

For example, try adding Santiago® Beans to a Banh Mi Sandwich for a tasty, low-cost, vegetarian take on a Vietnamese favorite.

Click here for ideas and strategies on how to make your menu appeal to this growing group of consumers.