Betsy Craig is the founder and CEO of MenuTrinfo™, a company that is quietly revolutionizing the way restaurants approach nutritional, allergen-friendly and gluten-free menus.
A leading menu nutritional consultant, Betsy was recently voted the #4 CEO in the fast casual industry’s “2012 Top 100 Movers and Shakers.” Fort Collins, Colorado-based MenuTrinfo and its sister company, Kitchens with Confidence, were awarded the #7 spot in the Top 10 technology trends in the restaurant industry, according to NetWorld Alliance.
We asked Betsy to fill us in on some of the groundbreaking work she is doing for hundreds of clients, including such blue-chip organizations as the Walt Disney World theme parks, Rosati’s Pizza, Pima County (Arizona) and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
RestaurantNews: Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us what MenuTrinfo is all about.
Betsy Craig: MenuTrinfo, as you may have guessed, is a combination of the words menu, nutrition and information. Our mission is to protect people’s lives and health by partnering with our restaurant clients to provide simplified nutritional information and to ensure that accurate, clear and helpful menus are made available to their customers.
We are also providing expert consulting on healthy meals, training on food safety and guidance on new menu trends and transparency in food service.
RN: What do you mean when you say you’re “Making Menus Matter?”
BC: It begins with the simple fact that the vast majority of restaurants today are not providing accurate and/or complete information to their customers. As expert nutritional consultants, we are in a unique position to help them address this shortcoming. We start by taking our clients’ recipes, running them through our proprietary software and accurately converting them to calories and nutritional facts, which can be confidently displayed on their web sites and menus
As we like to say, we excel in nutritional facts, not fiction.
As part of this process, MenuTrinfo also identifies allergens in the recipes, which often comes as a shock to the chefs. This is another critical step in protecting their customers’ lives and health.
RN: So how does “Making Menus Matter” translate to providing healthier options?
BC: Because our proprietary database enables us to break down virtually any recipe into its most basic components, we can teach chefs and restaurants how to make their recipes healthier without sacrificing flavor or texture. By transforming each recipe into calories, we’re able to recommend healthier options, which the chefs can then go back to their kitchens and experiment with.
For instance, we took a 1,000-calorie Mac & Cheese dish that was being served at one of our client’s restaurants and reduced it to 600 calories, all without sacrificing any taste whatsoever. We have hundreds of examples of similar improvements made in food-service establishments across the country.
I’m very proud that our clients, such as Disney and Pima County, are leading the way in addressing the scourge of youth – and adult – obesity in America. We honestly believe that MenuTrinfo is playing an essential, and distinctive, role in improving the wellness of our citizens. And we’ve even started taking our expertise to clients in Canada and Australia.
RN: You’ve mentioned gluten-free a couple of times now. I assume a big part of your business is helping your clients satisfy customers with special dietary needs.
BC: That’s right. According to the National Restaurant Association, gluten-free is the #2 trend in the restaurant industry today. And while upwards of 40% of restaurants currently say they are offering gluten-free menus, we’ve found that many of those aren’t doing it right – or completely. For example, a chef may switch to gluten-free flour, but if he uses shared oil with regular flour, he’s compromised his food. Or the gluten free flour may be fine, but he’s still using barbeque sauce, malt vinegar or soy sauce with gluten. We explain that it’s absolutely essential to keep gluten-free foods from being cross-contaminated by gluten.
Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat and other grains. Millions of people have become allergic to, or intolerant of, wheat; and people are people diagnosed with celiac disease at alarmingly high rates. So the need for gluten-free menus is going to continue to grow in urgency.
Did you know that once every three minutes, someone in the United States goes to the hospital due to an allergic reaction to food? Which takes us to another of our catchphrases: “We keep the hospital out of hospitality.”
Our database enables us to get to the sub-particle level in ingredients. So if you’re allergic to fish, you need to know not to use the Worchester cause that contains traces of fish. That could be ER-seeking for you.
The key is in the training – establishing proper protocol for both the front and the back of the house. This May, we’ll be rolling out our new “AllerChef” training, which will instruct and certify chefs on how to make gluten-free and allergen-friendly menu items in today’s commercial kitchens.
RN: What does MenuTrinfo have that isn’t available elsewhere?
BC: We’ve developed a robust nutritional software platform that uses the USDA’s database as its core foundation. We originally built our proprietary database specifically to serve the restaurant industry, making us the only company designed from the ground up to be a nutritional company exclusively for restaurants. Now, that same software has been greatly expanded to fill additional needs, including retail labels and college and university food service.
Most chefs will tell you how difficult it is to determine calories and nutritional information for their recipes on their own. Many hire outside dieticians, or try to do it themselves using apps or web sites, which may or may not be accurate. In the end, they’re putting their reputation on the line with these outside resources, which usually can’t be verified.
MenuTrinfo not only helps our clients develop healthier, allergen-friendly and gluten-free recipes, we also guarantee our work and even provide insurance against errors and omissions. That means peace-of-mind for our clients, and for their customers.
We’re also very excited to soon be rolling out official symbols that our clients will use to certify their menus as gluten-free and “nutritionals certified.” Sort of our own “Good Housekeeping” seals, applied to foods.
RN: It certainly sounds like you’re operating on the cutting edge. Are there any other services you offer that you haven’t touched on yet?
BC: Yes, we offer our proprietary “AllerTrain” classes and webinars, which deliver ideas, tools and best practices to improve food safety and expand offerings of special dietary meals. AllerTrain has been accredited by both the American Culinary Federation and the American Dietetic Association, and is designed for everyone on a restaurant’s team, from the owners to bus persons, in every food service setting, from fast-casual chains to elementary school cafeterias. Completion of the program earns a three-year certification, and the right to display the certificate, the Kitchens with Confidence logo and menu marks to underscore the restaurant’s commitment to serving safe, healthy, nutritious meals to every diner.
We also help our clients with disclaimers and other menu language to accurately convey how they are handling potential allergens. For example, you may have seen words near the bottom of some menus saying things like “Our products are made with peanut oil,” or “Please inform your server if someone in your party has a food allergy.”
We help our restaurant clients determine what disclaimers should be on their menus based on what they serve. In so doing, we’re absolutely setting the trend for individual restaurants using labels, staying out front as federal menu-labeling laws quickly approach. I can assure you that our clients won’t be caught off-guard when the regulations are inevitably instituted come out in April. They are way ahead of the game.