- Noodles & Company has expanded its lighter, zucchini-noodle based offerings with two new menu items as part of a new category, “Zoodles and Other Noodles.” In a release, the company said the expansion is in response to overwhelmingly positive guest feedback to its initial Zoodles launch last year.
- Noodles has also added a new, personalized nutrition calculator on both its website and app that allows users to create dishes that meet their dietary preferences, including keto, paleo, vegetarian and gluten-friendly options.
- The company also said that additional light and plant-based noodles will appear on the menu later this year.
During Noodles’ Q4 earnings in March, the company’s zucchini offerings emerged as a big theme and were credited for boosting the company’s performance, which included a systemwide sales increase of 4%. On the call, executive chairman Paul Murphy said the zucchini noodle is an important step toward the brand’s objective of resonating from a health perspective.
Noodles’ rollout of a nutrition calculator shows just how serious the company is about owning from that health angle. As consumers become more digital and simultaneously more health conscious, Noodles is wise to showcase how their menu can help them achieve their dietary goals through mobile and online channels. After all, it’s through those channels that customers are interacting with restaurant brands. Restaurant digital orders have increased at an average annual rate of 23% since 2013, for example, and are expected to triple in volume by the end of next year, according to The NPD Group. Six out of 10 digital orders are now made through mobile apps.
Noodles’ strategy also illustrates another major theme taking place: restaurants rolling out lifestyle offerings focused on specialty diets. Chipotle’s new “Lifestyle Bowls” have provided a bit of a lift for the company, for example.
"[The bowls] resonate with consumers in a big way. In fact, during the first few days, it generated over a billion earned media impressions,” CEO Brian Niccol said during the Q1 earnings call last month.
Chipotle has since extended its Lifestyle menu platforms with plant-based options, and is also testing several other menu items around the idea of lifestyle goals, Niccol added. Even traditional donut brand Dunkin’ has jumped on board, introducing a new Power Breakfast Sandwich, its first step in the better-for-you category, according to CEO David Hoffman. During that company’s Q1 call, Hoffman said the sandwich has resonated with consumers who are looking for healthy options on a budget.
Then of course there’s the staggering growth in plant-based meat offerings. Plant-based proteins are trending among consumers, with 34% of Americans saying they'd consider adding plant-based food to their diets if it improved their health, according to a YouGov survey. These numbers could explain why brands like Del Taco, Burger King, White Castle and Red Robin have added plant-based burgers to their menu mix.
More consumers becoming more health conscious is a clear opportunity for the restaurant industry. Adding menu items and complementing those items with digital features — like nutritional calculators — to help consumers achieve their goals is a good way to keep health-conscious guests engaged and appeal to new guests.