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Moe's Southwest Grill president on menu strategy

Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., president and founder of Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm, interviews Paul Damico, president of Moe's Southwest Grill, on the progress of the chain's mission to improve the healthfulness of its food.

See Moe’s Southwest Grill’s Healthy Dining-approved menu choices on This interview and others can be seen at Healthy Dining’s Restaurant Nutrition News & Insights.

Paul, I’m so impressed with Moe’s commitment to nutrition and wellness. I talked with your corporate chef, Dan Barash, about a year ago about your ‘Food Mission’ that had recently launched. Now that it has been a year or so, how has your commitment to nutrition and your 'Food Mission' evolved?

Yes, Dan probably told you that about two and a half years ago, we started putting together a solid strategy for our menu and our ‘Food Mission.’ We served great food back then so we didn’t feel the need to reformulate or change our food, but we wanted to improve upon the quality of our ingredients. Since Moe’s always strives to give our customers the highest-quality service we wanted to begin incorporating the highest-quality ingredients, too, so that we were treating our food like we treat our customers.

That’s a great way to explain why you created your 'Food Mission' — so that it is in line with the way you treat your guests. Tell us more about that.

We are all about our food and all about our environment. We want to be known as over the top in health and taste with an acceptable price point.

Our guests are 'sustainability champions,' 'conscientious parents,' 'calorie counters,' 'gluten evaders' and vegetarians. And we want to meet and exceed their expectations for quality and taste.

Our menu touts ingredients that are free of rBGH, steroids, preservatives or MSG. It took us about a year to research and source all of those products, but it was worth the time. We also evaluated all of our marinades and sauces and cut the sodium quite a bit without compromising any of the taste. And all of this is happening 100 percent of the time at all of our locations.

That’s great. So how have your guests responded?

The numbers speak for themselves. Our traffic is up 4.5 percent, and that includes a lot of new guests. Our sales are up 9 percent. And we are opening up a new restaurant every five days.

Something we’re proud of is that we’re currently in 19 universities. College students love Moe’s 'Food Mission.' All that is due to the quality of our food.

We are now at 450 locations and growing.

Wow! So what’s next?

We have started using only cage-free, skinless, white meat chicken breast with no hormones added. Toward the end of this year we will be securing the whole breast of the chicken — cage free and hormone free — which is even more flavorful and juicy than what we are serving now. It has a really great appearance, too.

Recently we announced that our salsas are made from all-natural ingredients. We have always offered a variety of salsas, but now we also rotate in new freshly prepared seasonal salsas on a quarterly basis. Again, these will all be made with all-natural ingredients and will contain no preservatives. We see this as a massive differentiator for us.

We are also looking at organic juice boxes and all-natural cookies for kids, which parents will like too.

Contact Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., at [email protected].

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