January 22, 2010

Nutritionals are back

This picture marks the beginning of our journey to uncover Clover’s nutritionals. Yup, I’m wearing a T-shirt in the picture. For those of you who have been asking, and waiting, and asking, and patiently waiting, we’ve finally pulled this together.

As with everything at Clover these will evolve. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing basic nutritional data for our sandwiches, soups, fries, beverages. We’ll take our time and this will give us a chance to talk about choices we’ve made, ingredients, methods, etc. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Now, for a few words about our approach to this stuff. First, we know that a bunch of you could care less: stop reading now, we’ve already wasted your time. Others have been very curious. Exactly how should I think about that egg+egg in my hand? Is it a healthy choice? We’ve been hearing these questions and more.

Our first concern is always going to be that you can’t wait to eat that sandwich in your hand. If you don’t love the food you wont eat it and the nutritional content is meaningless.

Our second concern is related to the first, we’re committed to making sure your sandwich is made from the best tasting ingredients. We think local in season food tastes better. And we think whole foods are much more filling per calorie. This is why we use whole wheat bread, tons of fresh seasonal and local vegetables, whole chickpeas, etc. It’s also why we use our own hands to make pretty much everything we sell you (with the exception of the smokey tempeh strips, but that’s another post). We think better ingredients taste better.

Only after we are satisfied that the food tastes great, and we’re happy with the ingredients, only then do we start to worry ourselves with other issues: speed, cost, unique but familiar and accessible, local economies. Ok, and somewhere in that mix “health” pops up. And we’re always striving for transparency, so obviously we had to find a way to answer your questions.

Read on for more about Clover’s nutritionals (including some cool charts I spent too much time building)

APPROACH

I’m going to have Chris and Rolando weigh in with future posts, but for now I’ll lay out our thoughts about nutritional information in a simple way. A huge part of what your body gets from our food is what folks call “micronutrients.” It’s all the tiny stuff that doesn’t really show up in a simple food label. Vitamins, etc. And it’s not just the quantity of those items, but it’s also about the quality. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time going into this, but the basic idea is that the fiber you get eating our granola is much more diverse in form and does more for you than the fiber you get in fortified frosted flakes.

I know some of you are reading this and saying to yourself “yeah yeah, but what is the fat, what are the calories?” These are the two numbers most people track if they track anything.

OUR GOAL:

Our worst is better than their best

So what does “worst” mean? Very high in fat. Absurdly caloric. High levels of cholesterol.

I believe nutritional information must be seen in context of the choices you face. You’ll find a bunch of comparisons with competitors as we post this information, not something Clover normally does. But in this case I can’t see how you make sense of this data, these fat and calorie numbers unless they are in the context of other choices you could be making.

METHOD

We started building our nutritional data the way most companies do, using tables of pre-existing values. When we got to some of our core components (french fries, chickpea fritter, fried eggplant) that wasn’t good enough. So we packed up samples and sent them out to a lab. We used Krueger Food Labs. Then we took the results and worked up our final nutritional charts.

For competitors I was really most interested in getting a realistic reading of their sandwiches. I didn’t build any silly sandwich that nobody would ever order to get super high fat content, and I didn’t accept any “sandwich” that didn’t include normal condiments and toppings (I’m looking at you Subway). For the most “popular” sandwich I just called a couple of local locations (in Boston) and asked them “what’s your most popular sandwich?”

RANT

OK, I didn’t know anything about this when I got started. And I was absolutely shocked with some of what I found. In a way these nutritional numbers get to be like anything. They are pretty meaningless unless you look at them in context, and often. When Clover first opened I had no idea what a “good day” would mean in terms of sales. Now we all know exactly what different numbers mean. It’s been that way with the nutritional data. I started out without any good sense of what “good” meant. Of course there’s the USDA pyramid, but I didn’t know much about that either.

So like many of you I thought Subway had relatively “healthy” sandwiches. And I thought McDonald’s was evil. I was dead wrong. Subway is a cheat. First, they only report 6″ sandwiches, even though most of their customers buy 12″. You read that right, they ONLY report 6″, as in you cannot find anything else on their website. But that’s not enough for them. If you get Subway’s nutritionals for a veggie delite they don’t include ANY condiments, that’s right, dry. And no cheese. And as far as I can tell they don’t include vegetables in their nutrition quotes. They’re basically quoting you bread and meat. Everything else appears to be a “condiment” or “option” that you have to manually add in. Total pain.

Burger King, where I worked for a few weeks, was beautifully transparent (and made my research easy). They show exactly what they are quoting in the nutritional data and allow you to tweak it very easily.

CALORIES

So here’s the results for Clover’s sandwiches:

Chickpea fritter 455 kcal

Egg and eggplant 418 kcal

Soy BLT 301 kcal

BBQ seitan 320 kcal

And here’s how we compare to some of your other fast and fast casual options:

FAT

And here are the results for fat content for Clover’s sandwiches:

Chickpea fritter 12 g

Egg and eggplant 19 g

Soy BLT 7 g

BBQ seitan 7 g

And here’s how we compare on fat:

Alright, this is already the longest post of all time. There will be more detail to come, stay tuned…

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