Consumers are no longer confined to their own kitchens to make nutritious meals now that an array of better-for-you brands have emerged.
These concepts are offering meals that are GMO-free, all-natural, and with grass-fed meat and no high fructose corn syrup. They are also catering to gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo eaters.
Eating healthy isn't just a consumer fad, but instead it has become a movement that has changed the restaurant industry forever.
With that being said, which of these healthy concepts have the most potential?
A few of these brands landed on our National Top 25 Restaurants list, which is compiled from consumer social data pulled from Foodable Labs. The list highlights the industry's bigger players, that are the widespread, recognizable brands and chains consumers know and love.
At the end of 2016, CoreLife Eatery ranked at No. 19 on this list. This brand currently has 16 stores, but plans to grow to 28 stores by the end of the year.
To help the concept meet its aggressive expansion goals, Scott Davis, the former Panera Bread chief concept officer was brought on as the president earlier this year.
We sat down with the restaurant industry veteran to see why he decided to make the move to CoreLife Eatery, how the brand incorporates consumer trends, and what's to come.
Why did you decide to join the CoreLife executive management team?
Davis: I was looking around at what else was out there. First of all, I saw a brand that was created in upstate New York and that's where I live. So there's nice proximity there.
But also, there was a fellow named Larry Wilson who was the founder. He is somewhat of a legend up here. He's a Moe's franchisee and as a teenager, he ran a video store chain built from scratch. He seemed like an interesting fellow and I wanted to meet him.
When I did meet him, his philosophy was very similar to where I was coming from. It was a nice fit.
How's it different from other brands that you've worked for?
Davis: It's much smaller versus when I was with Panera and that was, obviously, a very large scale company. But I started with Panera back when it was a smaller company and I'd say it's similar in a lot of ways.
There's similarities in terms of the focus on the customer and trying to break some new ground.
It's different in that it's probably more operational than some of the other places I've been at. Being a smaller company, everything's about ops at some level. I feel like I'm able to add some real value to the brand side of the equation as well. It's exciting.
What do your customers like about CoreLife?
Davis: I'd say it's the Scratch Mades first of all. People that come to CoreLife are really looking for a clean option. The taste and flavors are really the things that drives them in. Everything's made from scratch and the idea that you can get healthy food that really tastes good is really the magic behind this brand ultimately.
Why did the concept pick a menu almost entirely of different bowls?
Davis: It goes back to the idea of having a more narrow menu structure. Whereas, a lot of concepts have a lot of different wraps, sandwiches, and that sort of stuff. The idea here was really sort of to keep it tight and to keep it narrow. Along with that, to just focus on the nutritional aspects of offering a great tasting menu.
When offering gluten-free, its much harder when you include bread products and products like wraps. That was one of the big drivers for the menu and to be able to go essentially gluten-free, while also being very aware of allergens and dietary restrictions. Nowadays, for a lot of folks it's about being careful about what they can eat and finding ways to eat around that.
What are the most popular menu items and why?
Davis: We have something called the Southwest Grilled Chicken bowl, which is probably the biggest seller we have. It's sort of familiar dish done in a new way. It has avocado, fresh grilled chicken, kind of a mixture of corn and tomatoes.
We also have the Steak, Bacon, and Bleu Cheese, which is probably our second most popular bowl. You get a familiar dish but, again, done in a new sort of way.
Then the Poke bowl has been one of the biggest surprises for us. We started doing a Poke bowl about two years ago and it's been a top seller across all the stores so far.
Is the brand planning to introduce any new menu items coming up?
Davis: You'll see us do a lot more. There's a lot of opportunity in the bowl world. We're also beginning to test what we are calling "plates." It's roasted vegetables with a side, like a grain salad side, and your protein choice, whether it's poke, steak, chicken, or tofu. It's a slight variation of what we're already doing and could open up the door for an even broader audience. Particularly, might help bring some more men in. Also, it will help ramp up evening business.
How does the brand incorporate consumer trends?
Davis: People are looking to visit restaurants based on a nutritional point of view. Healthier brands like CoreLife really thrive on the lunch hour segment for the most part.
If you think about it, the workforce has changed in the last 20 years. The folks that dominate the workforce today are mostly millennials. They're looking to eat cleaner. Back when I was in my early thirties to late twenties, we were looking for the biggest cheese steak, not the cleanest offering, right?
Today, certainly the trend is for understanding where your food is coming from and what's driving the pace behind that. Diners want to know what the nutritional values are and they're very savvy.
How does the brand go about selecting its franchisees?
Davis: We're looking for strong operators, multi-unit folks who've been in the business, who have the understanding of what it takes to run a five to 50 store operation. We're looking for people who have already done this. They've been best in class. They have an infrastructure in place. They have financing in place. They can grow with us. That they are willing to operate these stores in markets that haven't seen this before.
There are a lot of healthier brands in New York City, Boston, and other big cities. But when it comes to Syracuse, Peoria, Buffalo, not so much. We're looking for operators who can build their own markets, be really strong at it, and do it quickly.
What are the future plans for the chain?
Davis: We expect to have about 28 locations by the end of the year.
We're looking to add approximately 40 stores next year. So, it's a lot of growth. We want to continue to bring healthy, clean eating to more communities. That's really what our mission is. We believe that there's the opportunity to continue to push on the culinary side of the menu and to continue to evolve while also staying true to who we are.
One of the other big opportunities for us is that we found a really interesting spot in partnering with the local community like with yoga studios. We do a lot of classes in our locations when we're on off hours.
We've sponsored big festivals. Our original store in Syracuse had a Yoga Fest back in May. We had about 500 people come throughout the course of a day. We find that the lifestyle connection to fitness, whether it's yoga, weight training, or cross fit– this is a great place to get the kind of food that powers you up to take on those activities.
So we see a lot of potential in that co-mingling the active lifestyle with our healthy, clean food.