Better-For-You Restaurant Strategies – Cosi

I always explore the strategies various restaurants use to address the health and wellness concerns of their guests, particularly when I am traveling and seeking my own better-for-you options. During a recent trip to Chicago I ventured into a Cosi location. Cosi definitely does not position itself as a health-food restaurant, as a number of menu choices should make clear:

Steakhouse Gorgonzola Melt
Cubano Melt with Housemade Pickles
Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

As a matter of fact, Cosi’s tagline is “Life Should Be Delicious.” Providing delicious food to guests doesn’t have to mean abandoning healthier choices. In Cosi’s case, their visible Nutrition, Health and Wellness strategy relies on fresh, flavorful foods and ingredients, transparency and information, and flexibility and choice.

Cosi’s menu and servery setup send freshness impressions that equal better-for-you in the minds of many consumers. Large food photography lines the walls as customers wait to order. An open servery allows guests to see the food and preparers, and fresh, appealing ingredients are visible as choices are assembled to order. A hearth and an open-flame stone oven are a focal point in each Cosi location, highlighting the signature flatbread while reinforcing the fresh, made-to-order and premium wellness cues.

Consumers feel better about the food choices they make when they can see how the food is prepared and understand the ingredients. In addition to the made-to-order approach and the open servery, Cosi also lists out the ingredients in their menu descriptions. For instance, the Smart Fit Salad is described as “Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Kale, Romaine, Avocado, Carrots, Red Pepper, Green Onions, Roasted Corn, Black Beans and Honey Chipotle Dressing,” and “only 400 calories.” Information allows customers to make their own, better-educated choices as well. A menu board in the Cosi order area points out that the 644 calories in their Signature Salad can be reduced to 406 calories by asking for half the cheese and the reduced-fat sherry shallot vinaigrette.

Offering flexibility and choice does not mean having to greatly increase inventory or add an entire “healthy” section to the menu. Cosi’s Lighter Side menu only has 7 items on it, and clearly many of their menu choices are highly indulgent. However, allowing guests flexibility in how their choices are assembled and providing suggestions on how to customize meals to accomplish specific goals greatly enhances the effectiveness. Alternate choices are highlighted on the menu with messages like “feel free to substitute egg whites on any breakfast wrap or sandwich.” Sandwiches come with Cosi chips or baby carrots. The Cosi Club Sandwich automatically comes with low-fat mayonnaise, using a lower fat and calorie ingredient where it won’t negatively impact flavor to offset some of the impact of the other, more indulgent ingredients.

I’m not implying that Cosi nails an effective Nutrition, Health & Wellness strategy, but they definitely have identified some approaches worth borrowing.


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