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Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?

Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?Healthy this.  Healthy that.  We want nutrition information.  We want healthy menu choices.

The drumbeat coming from consumers and consumer groups over the last five years has steadily increased, demanding healthier options from restaurants in all segments of the food service industry.  Heavyweights like McDonald’s have bent under the pressure, and everyone across the industry has heard the call for healthy menus and responded.  This should be a classic example of the customer asking and then receiving exactly what they wanted.  Responding to the needs of customers is what success in food service is all about, right?

But what if customers are saying one thing and doing another?  A recent study conducted by Mintel Menu Insights reveals that 8 in 10 adults in the United States say eating healthy is important to them.  But when it comes to sitting down to a meal at a restaurant, only 20% of diners are thinking about healthy options.  Taste (at 77%) and hunger satisfaction (at 44%) are much more important to the customer’s dining experience.  Even worse, 54% said that healthy menu items are more likely to be more expensive.

More than three quarters of the American public want to see nutrition information on menus, and legislation has already been passed in several states mandating that information be presented by restaurants.  A national bill is in the works and will probably pass within the year.  Eventually, consumers are going to demand that entrees be healthy AND have superior taste and hunger satisfaction.  The more readily available menu nutrition information is, the faster that time will come.

So customers may be saying one thing and doing another currently.  That will probably change as menus help inform customer decisions with calorie and nutritional information.  As that time approaches, restaurants will do well to figure out how to take the taste and satisfaction that comes from traditional preparation  methods like frying and infuse it with lighter, healthier fare.

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2 Responses to Healthy Menus: Are Customers Saying One Thing Then Doing Another?

  1. Harold (SMM) July 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    I read this about a hour ago and have been pondering it.

    I would be curious to see if the data is broken down into age ranges.

    I am one who picks from the menu based on healthy choice, but then I don’t think that because something is healthy it won’t taste good. And I eat with people who make healthy choices too, so there is that sphere of influence. But I also eat with people who eat whatever they want and typically it is the group a lot younger than me or the group a lot older (15 years on either side)

    I think the other thing at issue here that is so often overlooked is portion sizes. We’ve gotten locked into this mentality in America that the plate has to be piled and then finished off. That may go all the way back to the Great Depression.

    Anyway. Thanks for posting about this. It spurred some thoughts for me and to me that’s always the mark of a great post.

    • Greg McGuire July 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

      The study didn’t break down results by age. I do think one thing going here is that Americans tend to splurge when they go out to eat. They may say they want to eat more healthy in general, but let’s face it, who doesn’t like to go a little crazy when they go out to eat?

      Thanks for your comments Harold.

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