During our holiday break, my family hosted two giant Christmas dinners and I went to San Francisco for 4 days so I did some seriously indulgent eating and drinking. This is why my friends were able to convince me, a self proclaimed cheese and soy sauce-a-holic, to commit to a 2-week no sugar, no gluten, no dairy (aka “no fun”) diet.  My first thought when I committed to this ridiculous-sounding diet was “what the heck am I going to eat???” Turns out, the answer is a lot.

Over the last couple years, the food industry has seen a huge boom in healthy, organic, and all-natural products. Many brands are focusing on either developing or acquiring health-centric foods, largely due to the fact that there has been a 30% growth of consumers in the US with food allergies. General Mills was one of the big brands to release gluten-free products, seeing a predicted growth in sales of $10.6 billion for the category, and has released several gluten-free versions of their products, including Cheerios.

And even though our society has long been obsessed with the newest diet or health trend (remember “South Beach Diet” or Olestra?), it seems as though this will be less of a trend and more of a cultural shift. Consumers are even willing to pay more money for products that promise to be healthier and/or aid in weight loss. According to Forbes, 88% of those polled are willing to pay more for healthier foods and this includes all age demographics.

This shift towards being more health-conscious isn’t only with consumer products. According to the National Restaurant Association site, more than seven out of 10 adults try to eat healthier when they go out to a restaurant than they did two years ago.  And the government is even trying to help us on the path towards more healthful eating, creating a law in 2010 that requires U.S. Restaurants with more than 20 locations to display calorie counts. It may not have been the main factor to help significantly lower sales at McDonalds but it certainly makes people question their order when they see the “563 calories” under a Big Mac.

What does this all mean for brands and restaurants? I don’t think it’s necessarily time to get rid of the deep fryers and baked goods. But I do think restaurants and chefs, who historically have had a “no substitutions” attitude when it comes to their dishes and menu, should pay close attention to this shift towards healthy and allergen-free eating and adapt their menus accordingly. It also means that if I continue with my “no fun” diet for another two weeks, I’ll have lots of choices when I go to the grocery store.

- Cassandre Pallas