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Scoring a touchdown with healthful menu items

SHAPE September 2016

Operators can tap into the growing demand for nutritious menu selections during the football season.










For many Americans the football season means Sunday get-togethers, fantasy leagues and watching the game on high definition, large screen  TVs. What seems to unite all football fans on game days, however, is food.

Food and football form a powerful combination for Americans. The Super Bowl alone ranks as the second-largest U.S. food consumption day, surpassed only by Thanksgiving.

And savvy restaurateurs know how to make the most of this popular pairing. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 48 million Americans are expected to order takeout or delivery food from a restaurant while watching the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, 12 million Americans watch the game at a bar or restaurant, the NRA says.

“Americans love football and they love food, and that makes pairing the two a perfect promotional opportunity for restaurants wanting to increase sales,” says Heather Mangieri, chief executive and nutrition consultant at Nutrition CheckUp, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Football and food are a natural coupling of two all-time favorites; they are both multi-cultural and both attract male and female fans of all ages.”

Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, Inc., agrees that the National Football League's regular season — which begins around Labor Day weekend and ends in December or early January — “is a strong occasion for restaurateurs to merchandise food. People want to be eating food—not making it—during the game. In particular, we've seen strong growth in off-premise and catering.”

Consumers' nutritional concerns also are seen as being an increasingly important factor in marketing to football fans. While restaurants continue to merchandise such fan-favorite fare as pizza, wings and burgers, an increasing number of consumers are looking for more healthful options on game day. “Consumer demand for more healthful and sustainable menu choices is continuing to grow,” says Sara Lucero, director of content at Healthy Dining in San Diego. “Including more healthful options, in addition to standard fare, helps restaurants to capitalize on these trends now.”

Healthier options can become big menu hits if they are marketed properly — and that means making them appealing to consumers, says Mangieri. “Restaurants should include the same football favorites which consumers are familiar with but with a healthier twist. Though pizza and wings are traditional favorites among sports fans, the growing focus on health and nutrition has caused consumers to demand more options — but not at the expense of taste.”

Lucero advises restaurateurs to avoid menu promotions that reward customers with only high calorie, high saturated fat, and  high sodium menu items. Include healthier menu items in promotions, as well as healthy kid-friendly selections to accommodate  the entire family of football fans, she says.

Mangieri and the experts at Healthy Dining offer some nutritious suggestions for foodservice operators looking to score during football season:

•    Flavored popcorn, light on the fat and salt; instead emphasize such flavors as chile, garlic herb, parmesan, rosemary, chipotle, sriracha lime, Jamaican jerk and Cajun.
•    Sweet potato fries tossed in olive oil and baked. Serve them with avocado or black bean dip, or a creamy chipotle sauce made with Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream.
•    Grilled shrimp with cocktail sauce or another light dip; or flavored/seasoned shrimp skewers served with vegetables.
•    Hummus with pita and vegetables; serve with bean dips like cannellini and black bean, or guacamole dip.
•    Vegetable platters with an array of raw, grilled or roasted vegetables, and a few dipping sauces. Also, a fruit platter can include a variety of cut up fruit choices and complementary sauces.

Main Dish Items
•    Platters featuring mini sliders or mini chicken sandwiches can help football fans control the urge to consume large amounts of casual calories as they concentrate on the game. Protein platters featuring lean selections such as flavored chicken or shrimp skewers also can help rein in the calorie content.
•    Pizza is a universal favorite — notably on game day — so it makes sense to offer healthier versions, like thin crust varieties or flatbread pizzas, which can save hundreds of calories from the dough alone. Use part-skim mozzarella and roasted vegetables.
•    Grilled chicken sandwiches filled with lean protein, fresh vegetables and light condiments are another healthful alternative. Consider using a whole grain bun.
•    Grilled fish sandwiches on a whole grain bun filled with roasted vegetables and light condiments can provide a healthful menu alternative.
•    Chili is also a crowd-pleaser and can be made more nutritious by substituting leaner protein like chicken and turkey as well as kidney or black beans in place of beef. Add vegetables and garnish with low-fat yogurt, radish slivers and fresh cilantro.

Side Dishes
•    Healthful sides including whole grain salads — like couscous, freekeh, brown rice pilaf or tabouleh — fresh fruit, baked vegetable chips, roasted potatoes and side salads also can be served, says Healthy Dining.

To help foodservice operators compete for customers during the lucrative football season, Sysco is kicking off The Greatest Game promotion. Foodservice operators who register at will have access to tips, articles, recipes and other content that will help them leverage the seasonal business. Participating operators will get to compete for a chance to win a variety of prizes, including a Grand Prize trip for two to The Big Game..

“At Sysco we're always looking for new and creative ways to help our customers succeed,” says Bill Day, executive vice president of merchandising for Sysco. “So we're excited to kick off 'The Greatest Game' promotion, which will help operators to leverage the football season's potential for high profitability.”



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