FOOD SERVICES | Staff Reporter, UK

Do your menus deliver on their promise?

It’s a fact – consumer tastes are changing.

Healthier menu options and premium ingredients are now the new norm and QSRs are investing in meeting consumer demands. But with new experimental menu offerings, there is a risk; with each new idea adding a level of unknown to the supply chain.

For example, in the UK the impending sugar tax on drinks has potential repercussions for QSRs. When a leading-brand QSR engaged with SAI Global to conduct an audit investigating the sugar levels from its suppliers, the results showed that only 80% of the samples taken were meeting the targets they’d set- despite assurances from suppliers that sugar levels were being reduced. Without this audit, the QSR would never have known it was being put at risk of failing to meet guidelines and could result in negative customer feedback if their products did not live up to their promise.

"The requirements set for failing suppliers needed to become more stringent. The suppliers had to work harder to demonstrate that those guidelines were being met," says David Peacock, Technical Consultant at SAI Global, recalling the aftermath of the audit.

“Through our auditing platform, we are able to support the client to ensure that their menu claims were validated and being met, including having actual nutritional levels lab tested.”

SAI Global also commented that an increasing number of QSR brands catering to health-conscious consumers are requesting specification management and claims verification. This is amidst the rise of government initiatives to reduce salt, sugar and calorie intake, as well as the growing consumer interest in free-from diets, in particular, gluten free.

"A lot of people are committing to a gluten-free lifestyle through choice rather than due to allergies. Some businesses are now looking to develop gluten-free menus that are then able to account for those requirements" says Peacock.

To ensure clients serve products that meet the QSR brand's health and wellness standards, SAI Global conducts a comprehensive audit that spans the farm-to-fork chain. Auditors work with suppliers to check on the quality of raw ingredients through sampling. They also coordinate with development chefs in the kitchen to review menus and look at levels of nutrition and implications of allergens. An holistic report is then produced based on the QSR brand's health and wellness goals.

"We bring all of that information together and review with the client from a menu development point of view. So while we're auditing our clients, if there's a remit to ensure we're minimising salt and sugar or we're looking at the nutritional values of their menu items then we audit them against that too" says Peacock.

SAI Global sees the health and wellness trend to become a key focus among QSRs due to government concerns on obesity and changing consumer lifestyles.

But it doesn’t end there. Recent years have seen numerous food safety scandals, from horse meat being marketed as beef, to the more recent tainted egg issues. These come on top of the recently introduced allergens law and the upcoming sugar tax. In this environment, it is mission critical for QSR businesses to ensure their products and processes meet their standards, rather than just taking their suppliers claims as fact.

"Clients until recently have mainly requested auditing services but now we find that we're moving more in a safety partnership and advisory direction with increased demand for claims verification," says Peacock. "With our clients’ suppliers, we're verifying the claims they are making through our auditing processes. We identify and look at automated systems on their recipes to make sure they're delivering as intended."

"We live busier lives, we're working longer, so there's less time to sit down and have a good meal. As a consequence there's a lot of convenience foods now available" says Peacock. "In the quest for convenience consumers want home delivery too, so we're moving to a new level of convenience foods. The health and wellness initiatives give us more options and information to make the right choices."

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