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Menu Watch: Healthful items perform well

Menu Watch: Healthful items perform well

I recently tried to get a spokesman from Applebee’s to tell me how well his chain’s low-calorie Weight Watchers and Under 550 Calorie items were selling. He declined to give me figures for competitive reasons, but he did indicate that the 2,000-unit casual-
dining chain, which recently added new items in those categories, wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t selling well.

Indeed, although data from markets where posting of calorie counts on menus is already mandatory indicate that customers don’t change what they order based on that information, the better-for-you category is still one of the most active parts of chain restaurant menus.

Taco Time Northwest, a 72-unit chain in the Puget Sound region, recently launched a “Fit-Hits” menu that features eight items with 400 or fewer calories, as well as four gluten-free items. 

The new dishes include white chicken salad and a Fit-Hit Bowl with rice, black beans, chicken, pico de gallo, and black bean and corn salsa.

Friendly’s, too, recently launched a 555-
calorie menu which the 506-unit family-dining chain based in Wilbraham, Mass., is offering for a limited time at all of its locations.

Tampa, Fla.-based Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is one of a growing number of chains to offer low-calorie cocktails, including its 99-calorie Tickled Pink, which has vodka, orange juice, raspberries and Prosecco. 

Applebee’s and T.G.I. Friday’s also recently added low-calorie drinks to their menus, while Hard Rock Cafe has hopped on the related “super foods” trend by shaking drinks containing coconut water. 

More premium items also are being added to menus these days, including Wendy’s introduction this month of its Asiago Ranch Chicken Club sandwich, featuring thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon in addition to all of the items in its name. It’s available spicy, homestyle — breaded and fried, but not spicy — or grilled, for a suggested price of $4.79.

McDonald’s, too, just added a limited-time option to its premium burger line with a Chipotle BBQ Bacon Angus burger, available through March 31 for a suggested $3.99.

That spicy LTO follows the recently launched limited-time offering by Ridgeland, Miss.-based McAlister’s Deli, featuring Buffalo-style marinated chicken strips. They can be had on top of a potato, along with melted cheddar and Jack cheeses and blue cheese dressing; in a salad; or in a wrap with Gorgonzola crumbles. 

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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