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Grain-based Bowl Meals

Last spring, called heritage grains such as spelt, einkorn, emmer, kamut, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, teff and millet a “super-hot trend” poised to appear in more foods, “from pasta to cheese puffs.” But rather than serving as side dishes or sprinkles atop salads, ancient grains--especially quinoa--can form the base of warm, hearty, grab-and-go bowl prepared meals.

In San Francisco, for example, high-tech-friendly restaurant Eatsa is taking an automated approach to fast, healthful food by offering quinoa bowls. Customers place orders on iPad tablets and wait a few moments for their bowls to appear in a windowed cubbie, wrapped and ready to grab-and-go. Built on a base of quinoa, each bowl is affordable ($6.95), fast, healthy, and entirely meat-free. The menu offers eight pre-made options that hit many on-trend targets, from comfort food to global hotspots, and customers can also customize their own bowl creations from a list of ingredients.

“Eatsa is closer to a vending machine than a restaurant,” says Christine Keller, who directs the trend practice area at San Francisco area-based CCD Innovation, a food and beverage product development agency. “Other vending [operations], like the Rubi coffee machines and Chicago-based Farmer’s Fridge, have also made news.”

Keller notes that the model makes sense in markets where people need convenience, want better nutrition than most fast-food options, and don’t mind the limited human interaction.

Katie Sutton, senior product development chef at Food & Drink Resources (FDR), a Centennial, Colo.-based culinary consultancy, notes U.S. companies can learn from European grocers when it comes to providing quick, bowl-based meals.

“On a recent trip, I ran into a French supermarket, pulled a pre-packed bowl of fresh herbs, greens, noodles and chicken off the produce shelf and went through a quick line where a staff person filled the bowl with hot broth,” she says. “The broth warmed the cool ingredients, and I had a fresh, hot meal in minutes.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Eatsa’s tablet ordering, single pricing and relatively simple menu
  • “Blueprints” with ideas for layering flavorful, pre-made elements on top of a neutral base
  • Grain-based meals that work for all dayparts, especially breakfast and lunch 
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