Attract more customers by offering lower-sodium options
Americans’ love for pizza is nothing to joke about…but neither is their high sodium intake. Over 75 percent of sodium in U.S. diets comes from restaurant, packaged and processed foods, with pizza a top contributor. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly nine in 10 children consume more than the recommended amount of salt leading to increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Due to the rise in heart disease diagnoses, now over 27 million, it’s no wonder the National Restaurant Association’s research shows seven in 10 adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants. “If you don’t care about your health, you’re going to lead a very unhappy and expensive life,” says Sara Haas, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Eating healthier is less expensive than being sick all the time.”
As a restaurant owner, catering to this growing audience is critical to increasing your customer base. By offering lower-sodium menu options, health-sensitive patrons will pile into your pizza parlor pronto. According to Brad Belletto, CEO of Vision360 Design and CEO of Green Kitchen Solutions, health concerns drive what customers want to purchase.
“Low-sodium is extremely important to anybody who has health issues,” he says. “We eat food for nutrition. If we’re not getting nutrition, the food is processed without any nutrients absorbed into the body.”
Haas thinks offering low-salt menu items “shows as a restaurateur you care about your customers, and want to include everyone who comes to your restaurant,” she says. “Why not do that to set an example, and be the one who welcomes all types of people to enjoy your food?”
But how do you lower the sodium in your current menu without ruining the flavor? You simply change the way customers receive the salty taste. A recent study in Food Chemistry shows by applying an accelerated salt delivery system, such as a watery salt solution to one side of the crust or by adding coarse-grained salt late in the dough-making process, that the taste quality is maintained while the sodium is reduced by up to 25 percent.
“Ingredients are driving the market and customers are really interested in natural products,” says Belletto. “Go fresh and local, and cook your menu items more frequently. High-quality ingredients cooked correctly maintain nutritional value while making people come back for more.”
Creating new, low-sodium recipes from the ground up is also an option. Restaurateurs like Aaron Sanchez, COO of The Healthy Pizza Company, have already utilized specific foods to create lower-salt pizzas. “Ingredients are the beginning, and you work with them to create a healthier product,” says Sanchez. “We created a concept from the ingredients: lower-sodium, lower-fat products and all-natural lean meats. We made sure our ingredients met these standards first, and then created our menu items.”
By using healthier building blocks, he shows customers they can eat better without sacrificing flavor. Sanchez utilizes his on-staff doctor for recipe creation and assessing nutritional value, but for other owners, Haas suggests hiring a dietitian for these endeavors.
“If you’re not marketing healthy food, you’re not marketing to your current and future markets. Marketing fresh, local, organic ingredients is the cutting edge,” says Belletto.
Kamron Karington, founder and CEO of Repeat Returns, suggests starting your marketing by analyzing your customer’s identity and finding the hungry crowd, which could be at health clubs, yoga studios or doctor’s offices.
Next, market the story of how eating your pizza is an experience. Explain your top-notch ingredients and cooking process with emotional words that resonate. Then offer a guarantee. “When you’re encouraging someone to try something new, a guarantee is the fastest, cheapest, most efficient way to have them try it,” says Karington. “If the pizza wasn’t good, you couldn’t offer a guarantee. It also shortcuts the customer’s thought of, ‘Am I going to like it?’”
Offering a compatible, value-added incentive, like a free salad, is another way to drive traffic. “You’re going to give them something, but they’re still paying full price for the pizza,” he adds.
Finally, don’t discount your prices since producing healthy items may cost more. “I ensured I had the highest prices, and would say this costs more, but here’s what you get for that extra dollar, and list off the differences,” says Karington. “Now there’s contrast and customers think, ‘For a buck or two more I can get all that, what a bargain.’”
Health-minded people are also accustomed to spending more for food that fits that lifestyle, according to Karington.
For his company, Sanchez posts attractive product photos on social media, offers samples and advertises the benefits of his low-sodium, all-natural ingredients in magazines geared towards fitness. Instead of exclusively marketing the word “healthy,” which he thinks has a somewhat negative connotation, Sanchez says “in our advertising, we focus a lot on how delicious it is, and use a tagline like “You won’t believe it’s healthy.” We need to educate the customer as to what the benefits of eating here are.”
Be Creative With Lower-Sodium Swaps
To offer a lower-sodium pizza on your menu, here are some options:
- Offer a whole-wheat crust for texture then top it with garlic, arugula, and lemon-infused oil.
- On your “lower sodium” pizzas, use less cheese by swapping to robust cheeses that require smaller amounts, such as feta or bleu cheese.
- Offer all-natural, nitrate-free, lean meats such as chicken sausage and turkey pepperoni.
- Make your own sauce with no salt added or low-sodium canned tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs.
- Finish the pizza with an acid like lemon juice or a “salty” ingredient like olives for flavor without extra sodium.
- Move away from packaged and processed products and switch to fresh, never-frozen ingredients.
Mandy Ellis is an Austin-based freelance writer who covers food, health and travel trends.