The NPD Group Looks Into Impact of Calories on Restaurant Menus

Ahead of the national menu labeling law that is expected to go into effect post-presidential election, several major restaurant chains have already begun posting calories on menus or will begin to soon. But the question is, if you lead consumers to low-calorie restaurant foods, will they eat it? According to The NPD Group food service market research:

·         Only nine percent of consumers are looking to eat healthful when they dine out, according to NPD’s CREST service, which continually tracks how consumers use restaurants. NPD analysis: When consumers eat out, they want to indulge and leave concerns about which foods are low fat, low calorie, and low sodium at home. And in tough economic times, price concerns outweigh health concerns when it comes to eating out.

·         NPD conducted a menu-labeling test among adults ages 18 and older. Panelists were asked to indicate items they would order from two versions of a typical fast food hamburger restaurant menu. Their first exposure was to a typical menu board without calorie information. Their second exposure was to the same menu board, but with calorie counts shown alongside the price of each item. The before and after ordering patterns were then compared. After viewing the menu with the calories posted, consumers ordered items that amounted to fewer calories, but the difference in calories was relatively small. The average number of calories ordered when calories were posted was 901, compared to 1,021 when calories were not posted. The NPD study also found that consumers ordered about the same number of items when calories were posted. They ordered, on average, 3.3 when calories weren’t posted, versus 3.2 when they were.  

·         In asking consumers how they define healthy eating when they dine out, among the most important attributes of healthy eating listed were quality, such as fresh, natural, and nutritious ingredients; well-balanced meals; and smaller portions. Fewer calories were among the least important features. NPD analysis: Typically the perception has been that healthy eating to consumers means low calorie and low fat, and our findings show that the perception is not the reality.

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