Industry Superstars Navigating Healthy Change: Maria Caranfa

Industry Superstars Navigating Healthy Change: Maria Caranfa

4/8/19
By Anita Jones-Mueller, CEO of Healthy Dining
This interview is one of a six-part series, “Industry Superstars Navigating Healthy Change” presented as the keynote sessions at the California and Florida Restaurant Association Shows. Other Superstars featured in the series, include: Jonathan Rollo, Commander-in-Leaf, Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop; Erik Oberholtzer, Co-Founder, Tender Greens; Steven Goldstein, Chief Marketing Officer, Sharky’s Mexican Grill; Nicole Bushnell, VP Marketing, Luna Grill; and Rich Wagner, Co-Founder and President, Nature’s Table.

Anita Jones-Mueller: I’m thrilled to have Maria Caranfa share her insights and passion for food and nutrition. Maria, tell us about yourself and your position with Bloomin’ Brands.

Maria Caranfa: I’m the Global Nutrition Program Manager for Bloomin’ Brands Inc., which includes Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. I work with our brands to navigate through today’s global health and nutrition landscape and there are four main components to my role. First, I lead the health and nutrition strategy development and execution; second, I manage our nutrition, allergen, and ingredient analysis and validation; third, I support our health and nutrition communications, including guest and field communication support; and last, I manage the nutrition-related food policy.
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: Wow – I know you are busy! That’s an important role with such a large restaurant company. Tell us about your guests and what you are finding about what is important to them in terms of food? What type of information about food is important to them? 
 
Maria Caranfa: We hear from our guests everyday regarding their health and nutrition needs within our restaurants. We have found that our consumers primarily look for nutrition information, healthful menu options, allergen and gluten avoidance, and plant-based menu options. To meet our guests’ needs, Bloomin’ has developed several health and nutrition strategies over the past decade, such as: under 600 calorie menu options, gluten-free menus, vegetarian and vegan menu option guides, and cross-functional health and nutrition guiding principles that impact food and beverage menu development.
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: Have your guests changed in the type of food they prefer and/or the type of information about food they request over the last few years, and if so how? 
 
Maria Caranfa: Our guests are interested in what their food is made of and how it is prepared. We are receiving increasing requests for allergen avoidance, and plant-based options. Fleming’s recently launched its Mushroom and Farro Burger to meet its plant-based need.


 
Anita Jones-Mueller: Tell us about your experience with menu labeling -- what do you think could help the overall process for other countries that are looking at the US and considering menu labeling and other food initiatives? 
 
Maria Caranfa: I have worked on national menu labeling for several years and was happy to see it move forward nationally. Other countries looking to mirror the U.S. law should understand that it takes two to four years to implement, many resources, and it is never truly “done.” It is an ongoing process that becomes part of the business framework.
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: How about allergens? How are you addressing helping those who need this information?
 
Maria Caranfa: Allergen determination is complicated and can often be oversimplified. It is a detailed process that requires analysis on many levels. Allergen exposure can originate from many sources, such as: the farm or field, the manufacturing facility and cross contact with other allergens in the manufacturing facility, shipping, storage, shared cooking surfaces and equipment, and the guest’s table. Because of this, it’s important to not only understand the ingredients in the food when determining allergens, but also each of the ingredient and guest touch points during normal kitchen and business operations. Incorrect analysis can have serious repercussions, so the proper amount of time, resources, and tasks must be performed to determine the correct allergens for each product and recipe.
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: How can restaurants be more proactive in contributing to a healthier America?
 
Maria Caranfa: Over the last 10 years, I have seen restaurants come full circle on their approach to healthful menu options and have embraced health and nutrition as part of their core business practices. Bloomin’ Brands Inc. has employed Registered Dietitians to their full-time staff, removed over 20,000 calories from core casual dining brand menus, widened its overall variety of menu options as featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com, and developed kids’ menu options to meet the strict nutrition criteria of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. We will continue to evolve our health and nutrition program to meet consumer and regulatory needs.
 
As the Chairperson of the National Restaurant Associations Nutrition Executive Study group Steering Committee, I am able to work with other Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and nutrition professionals in similar roles to mine and see firsthand the healthful change within the restaurant industry.
 
Anita Jones-Mueller: Yes, I heard you recently received the Outstanding Leadership Award from the NRA nutrition study group. Congrats! And, wow, 20,000 calories removed from Bloomin’ menu items. That is a huge accomplishment – thank you Maria for your energy, expertise and dedication to the health and well-being of the restaurant industry and its guests.