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New York City Health Department Finds Menu Labeling Affects Consumer Behavior

New York City Health Department Finds Menu Labeling Affects Consumer BehaviorNutrition information on menus is a trend in food service that doesn’t seem to be going away.  Legislation is still working its way through Congress that would require menu labeling.  In the meantime, New York City has had its own menu labeling law for fast food chains in place for some time now.  The question has been, as critics love to point out, exactly how effective is a list of nutrition information on helping consumers make better decisions?

Despite an independent study that found no effect on the amount of calories customers ordered, New York’s study, conducted by the Department of Health, found that the presence of menu labels reduced the number of calories ordered at 9 of 13 fast food chains.  Over 22,000 patrons were surveyed at 275 locations over 2 years, about half before the city’s law went into effect and half after.

The New York law is considered a model for other cities and states looking at menu labeling, including California.  More than likely, a national bill will mandate labeling for restaurant chains with 20 or more locations at a minimum.

From an independent operator standpoint, menu labeling can seem like an unnecessary expense, and one that is particularly hard to bear after the year the food service industry has had.  In general, it’s probably too early for independents to move on menu labeling just yet, but it seems fairly certain that new requirements loom on the horizon.

That doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing.  As consumers become accustomed to seeing nutrition information with the meals they order, those labels will be seen as a value-added service provided by the restaurant.  That will mean menu labeling will become a fundamental piece of marketing for just about every restaurant, regardless of the segment of the food service industry they occupy.

Like nutrition facts on groceries 20 years ago, menu labeling will start off controversial and meet significant opposition.  Over time labeling will become just as ubiquitous as nutrition facts.  It’s simply a question of when your restaurant conforms to the trend.

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5 Responses to New York City Health Department Finds Menu Labeling Affects Consumer Behavior

  1. Lisa November 11, 2009 at 8:59 am #

    I think this has it’s pros and cons! I personally like it. I can make the choice to ignore it if I’m going out to dinner and don’t care what I’m eating or I can choose something more sensible.

    What it comes down to is a lot of people really have to clue how much they are eating. Have you ever seen those shows “I eat 33,000 calories a day”? Unfortunately, you can’t teach people how to eat healthier (and exercise) by just putting nutrition info on products. BUT…maybe people will start take a second look.

    • Greg McGuire November 11, 2009 at 9:14 am #

      I agree you can’t get people to eat healthier with nutrition info alone. But I also think a lot of people don’t even think about how many calories they’re consuming. Just the realization might be enough to start changing eating habits.

  2. Ryan November 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    There is no downside. More people will eat healthier. More people will become aware. Healthy and aware people are happier. The world becomes more at peace. Eventually were all singing “We are the World” and holding hands.

    The expense to a restaurant is minimal. They can purchase an annual license at http://www.menucalc.com to analyze their food at a minimal cost.

    Restaurants will also create more loyalty and create a niche in the market. Don’t wait for the eventual legislation.

    We are the World.

    • Greg McGuire November 12, 2009 at 7:25 am #

      I think many restaurants, who have struggled through a rough year, would say even that minimal expense is too much. But I agree that this is something that must be done, and I applaud the NRA for getting out in front of this issue.

      You sing it MJ!

  3. Don Moyer November 12, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    It’s no surprise that New York’s study was a positive one since they were trying to justify their new law. My guess is that whether or not legislation like this continues, fat people will continue to be fat and skinny people will continue to be skinny. I’m sure this will be a welcome improvement by people that are health conscious and already pay attention to what they eat. As for everyone else, why would this all of a sudden cause them to pay attention when groceries have been labeled for years? Maybe Bono should get involved…….

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