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Like most other businesses, restaurants are gearing up to serve an older demographic in the future. An estimated one in five Americans (21%, or 73.1 million people) will be age 65 and older in 2030, compared with 13% (40.3 million) in 2010, according to Census projections.

As older adults claim a bigger slice of the demographic pie, restaurants are focused on the trends and disruptors that come with an aging population. 

The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2030 report looks at how broad societal trends outside the restaurant industry could affect the way people dine. One disruptor: the possible emergence of “medical meals” – meals that provide specific health benefits to diners, on an increasingly personalized level. 

Why medical meals?

An aging U.S. population is only part of the reason for the emergence of this “disruptor” in the restaurant industry. Advanced genetic knowledge, coupled with the rise of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, creates a growing demand for meals that not only provide health benefits but a personalized benefit.

Holistic nutrition – food as medicine – is an emerging trend as more Americans look for alternatives to prescription drugs. Enter medical meals. 

Multiple players are likely to engage. In some cases, meals may be “prescribed” by doctors. Some studies suggest a role for tax subsidies, noting that subsidizing certain healthful foods could lower health care costs by $100 billion. For restaurants, the cost of providing these meals could be offset with a relationship with health care or insurance companies. That, of course, brings new ways to do business.

The potential rise of medical meals is also driven by the growth of what’s called the “functional foods” market. Functional food is modified to “improve health or well-being by providing benefits beyond traditional nutrition.” The demand is fueled by people with health issues as well as people looking to avoid health issues. 

Why does this matter for restaurants? 

No matter what you call them – medical meals, prescription meals, or functional foods – these foods will have implications for the restaurant industry now and in the next decade.

  • People will always want good food, even with dietary restrictions. The growing recognition of chronic conditions will make prescription meals an important new category of prepared foods. 
  • Restaurants will need to provide clear and thorough ingredient lists for their dishes so consumers can be informed about their menu choices for their health restrictions.

Beyond the obvious impact on the plate, rapid advances in ingredient and food development will continue to drive change. Companies such as Nestlé are investing heavily in functional food ingredients, dietary supplements, and medical nutrition products in order to be able to provide foodservice operators with more options when it comes to the ingredients and products they can supply. 

Bottom line: Consumers today are doing all they can to get and stay healthy. Preventative measures will increasingly drive dietary changes – and the most successful restaurants of the next decade are positioned to be integral in this next-gen dining option. 

Read more about restaurant trends over the next decade in Restaurant Industry 2030. 

This article was created in partnership with Nestlé Professional.