In 2011, 90 per cent of B.C. residents who ate out dined at White Spot, according to a study conducted by Toronto’s BrandSpark International. And, after 85 years, Warren Erhart, president and CEO of White Spot Ltd., believes it’s a passion for quality, freshness, great taste, service and people that keeps the brand growing and evolving.
Part of that appeal is White Spot’s menu diversity, which can meet the needs of the entire family, including children, seniors and adults watching their waistlines. The team focuses on being relevant to a broad demographic, not just its long-time customers. Case in point: White Spot has been a leader among Western Canada foodservice establishments in developing a Health Check-certified Lifestyle Choices menu, and, most recently, a gluten-free menu. It was also the first full-service restaurant to join the B.C. government’s Informed Dining initiative, a voluntary program whereby foodservice operators provide nutritional information to their customers. F&H recently spoke to Erhart about the chain’s approach to providing healthier choices and an online nutritional guide.
F&H: White Spot is known for its famous Triple-O burgers and fries, so how does healthy eating factor into your menu?
Warren Erhart: White Spot’s menu has evolved to mirror the customers we have and those we want to attract. We were appealing to an older demographic, so we needed more diversity in our menu. Our customers didn’t always want a burger, and it is our customers who have “veto power” over our menu items. They were looking for healthier items, but we knew they had to taste good, be well seasoned and be of the same quality and freshness as our other menu items. So, we launched Lifestyle Choices and enlisted the help of the Heart & Stroke Foundation to certify our menu.
F&H: How have your customers responded?
WE: Our guests appreciate that we provide them with healthier options that still taste great for breakfast and the lunch and dinner dayparts. The addition of healthy options to our kids’ Pirate Paks’ [menu] has also been a hit with parents.
F&H: Have you had requests for other changes?
WE: Yes, we significantly reduced the sodium levels in our shrimp by reducing the sodium in the brine; we only use low sodium soy sauce, and we provide dressings and sauces on the side. We have an in-house nutritionist who helps address customer suggestions, especially regarding gluten-free choices. Our Founders’ Menu includes smaller portioned menu items and sharing plates. We also eliminated trans fats because of customer concerns about its possible effect on high blood pressure. We make a great effort to give our customers what they want. They want to know that we have quality ingredients.
F&H: Can you offer a couple examples of your innovations in healthier food?
WE: An example is our Smashbrowns, which are very unique. We use local B.C. potatoes that are baked, smashed and very lightly fried. [They’re used in place] of hashbrowns and instead of toast for our gluten-free customers. We are constantly trying new menu items and letting our customers decide whether they stay on the menu.
F&H: Do staff appreciate the quality of your ingredients?
WE: Training is ongoing for the service and kitchen staff. We want them to understand the rationale behind our menu selections and to appreciate the quality of the ingredients we use and what ingredients are in the menu items.
F&H: Do you think healthy eating is a fad?
WE: No, it’s here to stay — certainly in Vancouver. I have been very proactive locally, encouraging other foodservice organizations to get with the program by providing nutritional information and becoming part of the Informed Dining program. Twenty-two of the national chains that operate in B.C. have agreed to support the program. Nutritional information should be available for our guests, upon request, prior to ordering. I, however, don’t feel that mandating caloric and other nutritional information should be forced upon restaurateurs. Restaurants need to be stress-free environments where people can enjoy themselves without any additional pressures forced upon them. Of course, if a guest wants the information, then, by all means, make it available — that’s just good business.
F&H: What does the future hold for White Spot?
WE: Continued growth and ongoing menu development. We are expanding in Asia and throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba — maybe even into Ontario. We’ll continue to improve the quality of our menu items and the diversity available to customers.
We’ve Analyzed This
White Spot is leading the industry in providing solid online nutrition information about its menu items and its certifications from the Health Check and Informed Dining programs. As part of B.C.’s Informed Dining program, White Spot identifies the menu data from the 13 most common nutrients (total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron). It also identifies nutrient content information with and without various sides, sauces, et cetera. Calories and sodium content are highlighted in colour on online charts for easy reference. What’s more, White Spot’s “Lifestyle Choice” selections are identified in red in each nutritional menu category on the online charts, so it’s easy for customers to make healthier choices.
Next Steps for White Spot
A few White Spot menu items stand out for their high sodium content, namely the buttermilk stack of pancakes (3,037 mg sodium) and the spaghetti and meatballs (2,688 mg sodium). The menu also features numerous popular beef, rib and chicken entrées with more than 1,200 milligrams of sodium. These could likely be reformulated to retain the taste with less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. White Spot could help customers by gradually reducing the sodium content of the most popular items so patrons don’t need to be selecting from specially crafted healthier options to reduce their sodium intake.
The “We’ve Analyzed This” column offers insight into healthy menu initiatives at various restaurants. Sandra Matheson, RD, is the president of the Oakville, Ont.-based Food Systems Consulting Inc., a Canada-wide consulting group specializing in healthy eating away from home. For more information, visit foodsystems.com.