What does the word “health” mean? If you say that healthy eating means organic and hormone-free food, while I say it is lean protein and red wine, who is right? The short answer is both of us. While that may be frustrating and a bit unnerving, it’s also an opportunity for your food, beverage or restaurant brand.

Photo Credit: Ted Etyan, Flickr

Today, consumers are bombarded with definitions of health, from fortified and gluten-free menu items to such ambiguous terms as “natural” and “fresh.” There are numerous interpretations of what constitutes health, and most may be argued as correct. This may be why 55% of consumers try to take some control over the healthfulness of their diet, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food & Health Survey 2015.

Because health can mean different things to different people, it is important that your customers easily understand what it means for your brand. If you plan to create a “healthy” product line extensions or menu section for the first time, it’s just as important to maintain your brand positioning. You want healthful products offerings to strengthen your brand equity rather than dilute it and potentially confuse customers. Sales of products and menu items labeled “healthy” traditionally drop, which makes it that much more critical to define “health” in the context of your existing brand.

Define ‘health.’
Before creating your healthful products, and long before you begin promoting it to customers, you first need to define what constitutes health for your brand. Your definition of health must be believable, relevant and motivating to your customers. Otherwise, you may confuse them and risk hurting business.

For example, if a restaurant operator is beloved by customers because of its signature burgers and stuffed sandwiches do not walk away from this brand equity. Customers may be looking for more healthful options, but they still demand great-tasting food. Offer smaller portion sizes or use lean protein. Depending on the concept, using organic ingredients might be a credible strategy, although some consumers still equate organic with being expensive and even low in quality.

These are subtle yet effective ways to provide more healthful menu items while keeping the integrity of the menu. All of these approaches support the concept brand positioning and continue to provide customers with the food they love.

Embrace it.
Once you’ve defined health for your brand, embrace your decision by offering multiple healthful items. The days of getting away with one or two “lite” options are over. Consumers are trying to keep their diets balanced. “I’ll have a salad for lunch because I’m going to a new restaurant tonight and know that I’ll want dessert.” Sound familiar?

Using the smaller-portion strategy, an operator has two options for the menu. First, simply offer a smaller size for each item, so customers can still order their favorite items and have similar dining experiences. Or create a separate menu with new dishes that complement the types of dishes you feature on the main menu. Either approach will reinforce the brand positioning, make customers feel welcome and demonstrate commitment to providing more healthful options.

Tell your customers.
Now that you’ve defined health and created a product line or menu that corresponds to that definition, it’s important to clearly communicate to your customers what health means to you brand. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are numerous interpretations of health, and you want to avoid confusion with your customers’ preconceived definitions. You also want to avoid alienating them by suddenly having healthier options scattered throughout your product line-up or menu, especially if this is new territory for your brand.

Tell customers what you’re doing and, more importantly, why you’re doing it.

It’s also critical for the staff to understand your health position. Customers will ask questions and you want them to be able to provide clear, accurate responses.

Healthy eating—however you define it—will continue to grow and evolve. Consumer expectations for healthier options also will continue to increase and inevitably change. To successfully compete, you need to plant your “healthy stake” in the ground, make sure it fits with your concept and clearly inform your customers. Then wait until the next tidal change comes to our industry.