At this week's Pizza Executive Summit in Chicago, NakedPizza co-founder Jeff Leach gave pizza execs in the room a rude awakening. The USDA has new dietary guidelines coming out this year, and they're going to be bad news for the pizza industry.
"It's like Atkins 2.0," said Leach, an evolutionary anthropologist, of the just-released 2010 DGAC Report, a committee-advised document that informs the final dietary guidelines to come out by the end of the year. He said this nutritional recommendation shift has been long coming: While the new health care bill will require all restaurants with more than 20 units in the United States to post calorie counts and possible other nutrition facts about their food, that's not the answer to our nation's health woes, Leach said.
DGAC Report open for public commentary
The DGAC Report is the living document that will provide the foundation for this year's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The advisory committee that writes the document is comprised of 13 independent nutrition and health experts from around the country.
So far, the committee's major conclusions that target the fast food industry include a recommendation for restaurants to serve smaller portions and limit refined grains, solid fats and added sugar. While the current pyramid recommendations suggest grain as the largest servings group, the DGAC Report dissuades recommendations to eat more servings from the group for fear they won't be comprised of nutritious whole grains.
The report is still open for citizen commentary and input. This week, the USDA issued a release inviting public comments. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to view the Advisory Report now posted along with public comments at www.dietaryguidelines.gov. Written comments will be accepted from June 15, 2010 to July 15, 2010.
"That's not going to change anything," he said. "Fat doesn't make you fat. It doesn't cause heart disease. It never did."
Leach suggested that unrefined carbohydrates – the ones that comprise most pizza offerings – make insulin levels spike, which actually leads to weight gain. He got into the restaurant business, he said, because his daughter has Type 2 Diabetes and he wanted to change the landscape of fast food to help turn the tide against such diseases. He chose pizza because it's always on the list of 'worst health offenders.'
"And it's a vehicle for nutrition," he said.
Whatever the final results of the new food pyramid, Leach said the way forward for the pizza industry in this milieu of legislation and vilification is to rebrand the way pizza is perceived. That will take a big paradigm shift, both in regard to what the pizza industry puts in its products, and in how to educate customers on what "healthy" actually means. For pizzeria concepts, that means whether a nutritional claim involves more fiber, less calories, or more functional ingredients.
One recommendation Leach made included targeting women with better elucidated marketing messages about products' healthy attributes. Women are the ones who shop for their families and make nutritional information, so it is imperative that they fully understand this aspect of pizza products.
"They look for â€˜more fiber' on the box of cereal, because they don't want the â€˜old man' to die," Leach said. He used that example to illustrate how people are educated by the marketplace on what is healthy, though they don't actually know why. That creates an opportunity for executives to fill the ignorance gap.
Changing pizza's health profile
Health was a recurring theme throughout many of the Pizza Executive Summit presentations, with different solutions and nuances offered by operators.
The National Restaurant Association Research & Knowledge Group VP Hudson Riehle delivered a lunch keynote speech that sought to paint a roadmap for the restaurant industry in the next five years. Among the many stats Riehle presented was the fact that three out of four Americans currently claim attempts to eat healthier than in years past. The same amount of restaurant operators say that emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives sales and customers.
During an informal session on social media, Streetza Pizza owner Scott Baitinger discussed several successful viral videos of interns and customers planting and harvesting an urban garden for their toppings. Some studies suggest that in-season, locally grown foods can be more nutritious. Streetza also is teaming with area farmers markets to offer uber-fresh, specialty toppings. They'll allow customers to use toppings from the nearby or on-site markets, providing a visual effort to those grocers' often health-conscious shoppers.