The value of a tasty menu in healthcare
Jaclyn Feddes
April 19, 2017

Over the next year, consumer spending in healthcare foodservice is expected to grow 2.1%, a slightly stronger growth figure than that of the foodservice industry overall. The healthcare segment, comprised of hospitals, LTC (long-term care) and senior living, currently represents $25.2 billion in consumer spending. However, designing a menu for a healthcare operation can be tricky, as many operators need to offer a wide variety of options to cover the different healthcare needs and concerns, including dietary restrictions, demographic preferences and labor and food costs spanning in-room dining, cafeterias, cafes and full-service restaurants for patients, residents, employees and visitors. Datassential’s "Healthcare Keynote Report" explores the unique challenges of healthcare foodservice and provides insight into the mindsets of healthcare operators and consumers.

Consumers care about taste

According to the "Healthcare Keynote Report," 41% of healthcare consumers care just as much about taste as health benefits, wanting food that is equally tasty and nutritious, while 48% of healthcare consumers would rather have tasty than nutritious food. When choosing a hospital, senior living or LTC facility, what’s on the menu plays a significant role in decision making, as 76% of patients and residents have all their meals provided by the healthcare facility. The increasing variety of food offerings has come as a positive surprise to patients and residents who initially expected the food to live up to the “bland” stereotype that was once associated with healthcare.

“Hospital food has been either cold, bland, nasty-tasting or all of the above,” said one healthcare consumer. “Within a few years, it has become increasingly better and is almost at the point of restaurant quality, something I find unbelievable.”

The majority of healthcare consumers say they are pleased with the food overall and the choices they have at healthcare facilities – 81% say they even tried a brand-new food there. However, they would like more beverage options, and employees especially would be interested in healthcare facilities offering free beverage refills.

Opportunities for operators

Many healthcare operators are currently looking to add more diverse and flavorful “better for you” foods to the menu, including vegetarian and vegan options, grass-fed meats and hormone-free proteins. Moffitt Café at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, Calif., showcases French toast made with on-trend sprouted whole wheat bread. Colorado’s Aspen Valley Hospital achieved one of the highest patient food satisfaction scores with a menu that’s updated regularly and highlights items like quinoa patties with mango salsa on “Meatless Mondays.” LTC and senior living operators’ top priorities are to make their residents feel valued, offer tasty food, connect with their residents and provide a social experience, not just offer the most healthful food (although that is important to them).

Opportunities for suppliers

In addition, there are opportunities for suppliers to help healthcare operators balance the demand for tasty food that can still meet various dietary restrictions. Some areas operators would like supplier help with include obtaining gluten-free offerings and nutritional labeling, as well as managing food costs, waste, and improving employee retention. The top criteria most healthcare operators consider when selecting a supplier are consistent product availability, best value and online ordering capability.

Jaclyn Feddes is the publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the 2017 Healthcare Keynote Report, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at brian.darr@datassential.com.

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