According to Datamonitor's 'Future of Food and Beverage Consumer Trends in Australia' report, 71 per cent of Australians are making conscious attempts to eat healthier either 'most of the time' or 'all of the time'. IBISWorld's 'Top 5 Start-Up Opportunities for 2011' states that over the next five years the take-away food retail industry is forecast to grow by 13.3 per cent to be worth $18.71 billion. In addition to this it also states that the formation of niche offerings that cater to the more health-conscious consumer presents opportunities for entrepreneurs.
And while franchises may not be niche, someone considering investing probably wouldn't be wrong in thinking that the health food arena is an appealing option.
Katherine Sampson, founder of Healthy Habits, says the health food industry was her preference both personally and professionally.
"The first aspect was that I was interested in healthy eating and the second aspect was that I recognised an opportunity because when I was trading in my first sandwich bar we were becoming the busiest in the food court after McDonald's, Hungry Jacks and KFC. So I just realised that people were choosing healthier food," she says.
While Sampson isn't afraid to say that there is less profitability in a healthy food business than there is in a less health-focused fast food business, she does believe that healthy food franchisees are more passionate about their work.
"Absolutely, I think that people that come onboard a healthy food franchise are passionate about the food, they're passionate about their healthy lifestyle, they're passionate about delivering a product to a customer that they're proud of and they're happy that they're actually giving back to society through good, fresh, healthy food."
Salad franchise Sumo Salad is the brainchild of founder Luke Baylis, who started the business in 2002 after experiencing first-hand Australia's lack of healthy food offerings. "I was living in America and was quite overweight. I was living on a typical American high fat diet. When I came back to Sydney there was nothing healthy to eat at all and I'd have to go to a cafe or a restaurant which was a really expensive, inconvenient option for me at the time, so there was just huge demand for someone to do healthy fast food," he says.
He also sees the healthy food industry as one with huge potential for growth - more so than less healthy alternatives.
"People are looking at the long term benefits of being in the healthy sector. They're looking at how their business is going to grow and how their returns are going to grow, and they are really looking at it with a longer term plan than say going into a franchise where they're just looking at how they can sell a high fat product quickly and make a turnover."
In fact Baylis believes the downfall of Krispy Kreme in Australia is due in part to its extremely high fat offering. "A lot of these businesses that are high fat are losing consumer appeal, whereas we're picking up market share."
Simon Crowe, founder of healthy burger franchise Grill'd, agrees that the healthy food industry will continue to grow and says that when he's considering new franchisees, he keeps his eye out for people that are passionate about health and see the business as more than just a revenue raiser.
"They have to work in the business and they do so with passion and care because they actually believe in what we're trying to achieve and I think that's the difference," Crowe explains. "If you have a reason for being and it's not just about making money, then all of a sudden you have richness around the business, the brand, the people and there's far more passion, engagement and ownership."
While Grill'd was born out of Crowe's desire to create a business that offered a product he could be proud of and that would stand the test of time, he says that investing in his franchise is also a smart business move because it fills a hole in the market.
"One of the things that is interesting, and I guess it comes from looking at the landscape in Australia in regards to food and more specifically burgers, is that it's a broken category. People have loved burgers for decades and yet most of us that are health conscious have been completely locked out of that category," Crowe says.
"Most other food businesses have got a really broad range of players in the category and burgers unfortunately have been bastardised and dumbed down over many years. So we had to make sure that we weren't anything like fast food if we were going to be differentiated, and if we were going to be meaningful, and if we were going to be a business that was around for a long time. So health has always been at the forefront of what we are trying to focus on."
Fresh Healthy Cafe has only just been introduced in Australia, with one store opening in Surfers Paradise and another pencilled in for Broadbeach. It classes itself as a healthy fast-casual food business selling smoothies, juices, soups, salads, wraps and paninis.
Australian franchisor Greg Hall admits that by aligning itself purely with healthy eating, the company might be missing out on the extra profits that come with offering traditional fast food options, but says he won't compromise the brand's integrity.
"Our model is only health," he says. "We don't want to taint our model, so if someone isn't that focused on health and wants to go somewhere else then we'll have to accept that we lose that business, because we want to know that when people come into a Fresh cafe anywhere is Australia, it doesn't matter what they order, it's going to be healthy."
Hall says Fresh franchisees are more committed to the brand and its success because they are proud of their product offerings and the fact that they are providing a service to society that will help to improve its overall wellbeing.
"People tend to feel better about delivering healthy food and obviously people need and want to turn a profit, but it's nice to turn a profit and be proud of what you're doing," he says.
"I'm no expert on other systems but I can't imagine there'd be too many people ringing up a fast food franchise that is unhealthy and being passionate about unhealthy food. They're probably passionate about the company and knowing they're going to turn a profit, whereas with our system, they're still interested in that but feel that they would be more motivated delivering health food."