Featured Articled: Is Indulgent Still “In”?

Imagine a time when a decadent slice of chocolate cake was placed in front of you. Did you indulge? Or did you pass because that piece of cake was not organic, low-calorie or in plain terms, healthy? Most likely, you indulged. Maybe not the entire slice, but you at least took a bite. And I am guessing the feelings evoked with that bite of cake were happiness, delight and satisfaction. Sure, there is always a twinge of guilt associated with treating yourself, but mostly you were immersed in the moment, soaking up every morsel of the indulgence. Consumer confession: we all still want something indulgent from time to time.

Restaurant operators nationwide, listen up: contrary to popular belief, indulgence is still in! “Clean” terms such as organic, healthy, gluten-free, sugar-free and low-calorie flood thoughts and opinions, sending the world into a health spiral. However, we are seeing that there is still room for that not-so-healthy dessert or item on the menu such as Dunkin Donuts’ Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich and Burger King’s Loaded Tater Tots. If big players in the industry continue to load up their menus with decadent options, then there must be a consumer demand for it.

FoodBusinessNews.net reaffirmed that indulgent foods are still very much relevant with an infographic on restaurants and the dishes consumers find most craveable. According to participants in the Technomic Consumer Brand Metrics survey, the list of most salivating menu options includes: Krispy Kreme’s signature glazed donuts, Red Lobster’s cheddar bay biscuits, Dairy Queen’s Blizzard ice cream treats, Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks and several items from Cracker Barrel, including biscuits with gravy, hash brown casserole, fried apples and Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake. These statistics are eye-opening for the food industry, proving that no matter how many healthy options are saturating menus, the decadent items remain most popular. So the question remains: in a world full of health-conscious consumers and organic foods, why do indulgent items continue to sell?

Americans Treat Themselves When Dining Out
While many Americans try to cook healthy meals and stick to a diet when dining at home, studies show that consumers almost always indulge when eating out. According to a recent report from the NPD Group, while more than half of adults say they eat healthful meals at home most of the time, only 25 percent actually order healthy when dining out and 23 percent stated, “I want to indulge when I go out to eat.” I think everyone can relate to this from personal experience. If your menu options are green, leafy salads or a rich pasta dish, most likely you are going to choose the pasta route. One reason behind this is many consumers think of dining out as a treat, so it’s an out-of-the-ordinary experience – an opportunity to indulge in something sinful.

Similar behavior follows when it comes to fast-food. Dunkin Donuts and Burger King may have recently come out with particularly indulgent menu options, but more often fast-food chains are trying to keep up with the health kick. Salads, lettuce-filled wraps and grilled chicken have all made their way onto fast food menus to try to cater to those who are health-conscious. However, according to “Why Healthy Eaters Fall for Fries” in the New York Times, when it comes to fast-food restaurants, American consumers – even those who do eat healthy – almost always choose the high-calorie menu options when ordering. To back up this statement, McDonald’s recently released its sales on their healthy offerings stating that salads only make up 2%-3% of their U.S. restaurant sales, adding that their Dollar Menu accounts for approximately 15 percent of sales.

Vacation Sparks an Indulgent Mindset
When headed on vacation, consumers look for relaxation and the opportunity to indulge in everything from a good book to a delicious meal. It’s nearly impossible to travel to a new city and not splurge. Although there are many tips out there to help travelers stay on track diet-wise, traveling is also a unique opportunity to submerse yourself in a different culture and fully experience it, right down to the dishes consumed. Chef Michael Gilligan, corporate chef at Royal Caribbean shares, “At Royal Caribbean, we are in the business of creating experiences for people to enjoy themselves on a memorable vacation. Of course we provide low-fat and sugar-free items on our menus, but you never hear couples reminiscing about their honeymoon and that delectable slice of sugar-free gelatin, do you?” Chef Gilligan is right – vacationers are never bragging about the deliciously healthy meal they enjoyed; consumers are sharing their indulgent experiences with New York City’s infamous cronut or Chicago’s deep-dish pizza.

Special Occasion and Holiday Splurging
It’s no secret that the holidays are a time when Americans’ waistlines expand. It’s a tradition to indulge over the holidays, but there are many other special occasions that also call for splurging in the U.S. such as a birthday party, wedding or football game. Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, is quoted on bakeryandsnacks.com saying that “consumers tend to go for what’s familiar … the traditional choices are the ones consumers turn to the most.” It is simply impossible to recreate the Super Bowl favorite Rotel dip, complete with Velveeta cheese and sausage, as a guilt-free appetizer. Dishes like this persuade Americans to forget the number of calories and simply live in the moment, savoring every last bite.

Dornblaser also added that “occasion-prompted snacking will always be indulgent.” Jacquie DiPego, pastry chef at Sand Pearl Resort in Clearwater, FL, shares that chocolate seems to always be the choice for special occasions. Chocolate is the ultimate indulgence, and seems to often be the cure for a sweet tooth. While many Americans tend to stick to a healthy lifestyle during “normal” days and weekdays, when an occasion comes about worth celebrating, consumers have no problem plunging their forks into cake or throwing back a few beers.

Consumers Indulge When Rewarding Themselves
Americans have always rewarded themselves with food, but now more than ever due to the abundance of diets, cheat days are becoming a motivating factor for sticking with healthy regimens. Consumers treat themselves to a splurge as their reward for sticking to their diet for a certain period of time. Treats are also well-known for rewarding any type of situation such as a work accomplishment, an anniversary or a hard workout. “There needs to be a balance between healthy living and living on the edge. We see that people are so consumed with work, fitness and other obligations these days so what can be more rewarding after a long day than throwing caution to the wind and having a slice of cake,” says Chef Gilligan. For those on strict diets, most diet plans do encourage a cheat day or a cheat meal – the key is always in moderation. Even your most health-conscious customer will indulge, but you will see them taking just a bite of cake or enjoying a controlled portion size.

Indulgence Comes in Moderation
The key to indulging is everything in moderation or in other words, smaller portions. Bakeries and restaurants are continuing to offer small bites and petit fours, as they give consumers the opportunity to splurge without the guilt. Quality is more important than quantity in this day and age, as consumers are expecting their small indulgence to have big flavor. The trend towards mini desserts is growing, so stay ahead of competitors by offering downsized portions of your menu options.

There are a multitude of reasons why indulgent dishes are still relevant; we have only touched on a few. When creating your next dish, don’t let health become a barrier. Keep in mind that consumers are still reaching for luxurious eats. So what are you waiting for? A world of indulgence awaits you.