Food File: Diners’ Affair With Bowls is Opening up a World of Possibilities for Operators


Canadians are a busy bunch.
They require on-the-go foodservice options that fit their active lifestyles,
don’t break the bank and are satisfying. As maintaining a work-life balance becomes more complicated, having the time to prepare and eat healthy, filling meals has fallen by the wayside.

Super bowls are what they say on the tag: bowls, filled with an array of nutritious foods that can be eaten in the office, on the street and just about anywhere in between. Because these bowls are prep-heavy, they aren’t easy to make at home, which creates opportunity for foodservice providers.

Freshii is a Canadian-based quick-service restaurant with more than 370 locations throughout the world. It has built its business model around health and wellness with on-the-go compatibility, customization and the use of high-quality ingredients.

“Nutrition is at the core of everything we do at Freshii,” says Andie Shapira, Freshii’s head of Nutrition and Menu Development. “The beauty of our bowls is that they’re extremely versatile.”

Freshii aims to provide high-quality, healthy meals as an alternative to other less-nutritious quick-service outlets. Having the option to customize a super bowl to meet specific nutritional needs and tastes is an important aspect of the brand’s guest experience.

“I’m a custom gal,” Shapira says. “I like to design my own [bowl]. It’s a really important feature on our menu — customization allows us to accommodate both taste preferences and allergies.”

Freshii offers a variety of bases, sauces and toppings for its bowls. Guests can choose from the established bowl menu, such as the Buddha Satay made with rice noodles, broccoli, carrot, cabbage, crispy wontons, green onions and spicy peanut sauce ($7.99) or the Oaxaca filled with brown rice, kale, avocado, beet slaw, black beans, corn, salsa fresca, crispy wontons, lime and spicy-yogurt sauce ($8.99) — or they can build a bowl of their own.

“Bowls are easier to eat on the go,” Shapira continues. “They’re a great way for people who are constantly on the go to get their nutrition in.”

Following the success of its limited-time Moroccan-inspired Biiblos bowl last year, Freshii has launched a new protein-packed vegan-chili bowl ($8.49) for 2019. With a brown-rice base, the chili is made with three types of beans and topped with avocado, cilantro and sriracha. Customers also have the option of adding additional proteins to the mix.

“The chili is great because it’s hearty and cosy for the winter,” Shapira says. “It has tons of nutritional benefits as well — plenty of fibre and protein; it’s really satisfying.”

As one of the first quick-service restaurants to feature super bowls on its menu, Chipotle is no stranger to customization or promoting healthful menu items. The brand most recently launched a line of Lifestyle Bowls in the U.S., created, in part, by Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig Urban. These bowls are suited to consumers following specific diets.

The four featured Lifestyle Bowls are the Keto Salad Bowl ($12.60), Paleo Salad Bowl ($12.40), Whole30 Salad Bowl ($12.40) and Double Protein Bowl ($13.60). Hartwig says when people travel, it makes it difficult to follow a strict nutritional guideline, so having options such as these take the hard work out of finding something appropriate to eat while in transit.

Ethnic-flavour trends in super bowls range from earthy Mediterranean styles to bright and punchy Vietnamese.

Poke (pronounced poke-eh) has become a popular super bowl in the past several years and enjoys a commanding presence on many quick-service/fast-casual menus across Canada. According to recent findings by Chicago-based Technomic, poke bowls and other super-bowl alternatives have contributed to the decline in popularity of the more basic soup-and-salad options of yesteryear.

Paradise Poke, located in downtown Ottawa, is, according to co-owner Ryan Moleiro, the only dedicated poke restaurant in the city. Having opened its initial space in 2017, the team is now working on opening a second location in the city. Molerio, whose background is in foodservice — and seafood in particular — says he was inspired to start Paradise Poke after a trip to Hawaii.

“I fell in love with the food and I couldn’t get the flavours out of my head,” he reminisces. “The freshness of the fish combined with the soy; the sesame oil — I couldn’t get over it.”

Poke bowls usually feature a seasoned sushi-rice base with toppings that include marinated ahi or yellowfin tuna and various types of seaweed, pickles, roasted nuts and vegetables. Poke started to gain North-American mainstream popularity in 2016 and, though there’s speculation as to whether the trend has peaked, it’s obvious that demand for poke as a healthy lunch alternative has not slowed within Canadian foodservice operations.

“At the end of the day, poke is certainly a trend, but then people would have said the same thing about sushi 30 years ago,” Moleiro says. “These veg-forward, healthful lifestyles are here to stay — our main demographic is people [age] 20 to 50 who are health conscious. Really, it’s less about the poke and more about the clean eating.

Moleiro and his business partner started Paradise Poke after several research trips to Hawaii and New York City. He felt there was a gap in the market for quick and healthy lunch options in downtown Ottawa.

“There are either salads or cheeseburgers [for lunch] around here,” he explains. “You can’t eat those every day. That’s why we designed our menu [the way we did] — so you could come in and get something different and satisfying every day of the week.

Signature menu items include The Heat Wave featuring Atlantic salmon, spicy mayo, sweet onion, green onion, cucumber, mango, crispy shallots, sesame seeds and sushi rice ($14.45) and gluten-free, vegan The Beet Goes On with organic beets, miso ginger, sweet onion, green onion, cucumber, avocado, edamame, coco-wasabi cream, root chips, sesame seeds and zucchini noodles ($14.45). Paradise Poke also allows guests to customize or build their own poke bowls with the ingredients of their choice.

“We live in a Starbucks world, where everything is super-customized,” Moleiro continues. “And that’s cool. We want that DIY aspect for our guests.”

Besides its namesake super bowl, Paradise Poke also features The Point Break Açai Bowl ($11.45) as its main smoothie option. As a rule, only sustainable seafood is used in the restaurant.

Calgary-based nutritionist Amber Romaniuk says super bowls can help people overcome issues such as food addiction, limiting allergies and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle. The self-proclaimed Emotional Eating Expert has an online following in the tens of thousands; her carefully curated Instagram feed features a rainbow of colourful smoothie bowls.

“Super bowls are full of nutrition,” she says. “They also include superfoods like maca, goji berries, bee pollen or pitaya powder and are so full of nutrients, vitamins, proteins and good fats that you can make it a meal.”

Romaniuk works with clients and develops her own smoothie bowls, which she shares with her followers. Smoothie bowls, as a rule, are bright and colourful with toppings such as nuts, granola, coconut, berries, fruits and cacao nibs artfully arranged over a thick base. According to Romaniuk, when it comes to smoothie bowls, there are best practices that should always be considered when developing menu options for foodservice.

“One of the biggest things people miss when developing a good smoothie or smoothie bowl is the protein and fat,” she explains. “Fruits and veggies break down in the body very quickly, so we need to add the fats and protein to slow down digestion and keep blood sugars more stable. Add protein options such as protein powders, collagen or hemp seeds. Have options for fats like nuts, seeds, nut butters and coconut milk or cream. Add naturally coloured superfood powders to avoid any fake dyes.”

She also offers practical tips for the actual building of the smoothie bowl

“You have to ensure you don’t add too much liquid (to the smoothie base), so that the smoothie itself is nice and thick and fluffy,” she says. “That way the toppings don’t sink to the bottom.”

While smoothie bowls remain a popular breakfast-bowl option, fast-casual operations such as Kupfert & Kim (with locations in Ontario and Quebec) offer a full breakfast-bowl menu with two smoothie options (each $8.85) and, something a bit more unique, Kim’s Congee: a breakfast bowl of savoury brown-rice porridge, served with various vegetables, sesame seeds, seaweed and house-made kimchi ($6.50).

Oatmeal bowls are also popular, with creative topping options on menus throughout the country. Springhouse, located in downtown Halifax, offers a full menu of plant-based power bowls, including its Power Porridge ($6) with gluten-free oats, chia, hemp, buckwheat, shredded coconut, dried cranberries, fresh apple, cinnamon and coconut milk.

Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, super bowls offer everything a modern-day Canadian consumer could want in a quick meal, making them an easy and adaptable option for any foodservice provider looking to diversify their menu.

Written by Janine Kennedy

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