How can a fast-casual restaurant chain update its menu and address diners' increased health concerns? In a recent interview withChain Leadermagazine,Boston Market Corp.'sRichard Davis, vice president of culinary innovation, shared his thoughts.

CL: Rotisserie chicken is your biggest item. How were you able to change the recipe without alienating guests?

Davis: It was tough because our guests are used to those flavors, and any change you make is a risk. But by doing numerous iterations, and doing consumer groups with them, we tried to make that transition as unnoticeable as possible.

Ultimately, we cleaned up the ingredients in the marinade. We took out anything that was artificial and replaced those things with real, natural flavors. We also reduced the amount of marinade we put into the chicken. In the tests we did with the new chicken starting in June, people perceived that the chicken was better and had a cleaner flavor.

CL: But you didn't promote the newly formulated chicken as better for you? Sounds like a “stealth health” approach.

Davis: That's right. With the changes we made, we could state that the chicken “is now natural.” But we've chosen not to rock the boat at this point. So yes, we're on board with stealth health. It's really about improving eating quality and nutrition without wagging a finger at your guests saying, “Now eat this because it's better for you.”

CL: Any other old favorites you've reformulated?

Davis: For our creamed spinach we are evaluating the move to a lower-fat cream cheese to bring the fat levels down and to reduce the calories. We took butter off our steamed veggies, switching to canola oil and olive oil. And we're talking a very hard look at reducing sodium in the creamed spinach and all other dishes on the menu.

Looking at new dishes, what are you doing to add flavor and interest without as much fat and sodium?
We know we do a good job pleasing a traditional meat-and-two-veg anglo palate, but we've been asking ourselves, “Where else might we draw some flavor from to open up the menu, so when we say 'home style' it embraces more cultures' definition of that?” The low-hanging fruit for us has been Mediterranean, and we're now moving to Central/South American and Asian flavors.

CL: What are some of the new dishes that have resulted?
We've developed some new rotisserie chicken items. The first two you'll see are the Tuscan Herb and Lemon Herb. With these, we cook the rotisserie chicken the way we always have with the sweet garlic marinade, but then we baste the chicken to order with herb-infused olive oil and top it with a crunchy, oven-toasted, herb-infused crumb. We're also testing a South American version with chimichurri and an Asian version.

Longer term, we are experimenting with flavored vinegars, salsa, chutneys and dips to go with the chicken. Things like a roasted-tomato salsa, or a blend of fire-roasted corn, poblano peppers and black beans. You've got an entirely different eating experience with these-much healthier than sauces with a cream and butter base.