Calorie Counts on Menus Likely to Cause Few Long-Term Changes in Customer OrderingThursday, April 7, 2011
(American Meat Institute)
Calorie information on menus will most likely have little long-term effect on consumer ordering patterns, according to a new survey by NPD Group, a leading market research company that tracks consumer trends.
NPD conducted the survey among adults ages 18 and older as part of a recent report entitled “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat.” 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.
“Calories aren’t the main priority for diners who are looking for healthy options when they eat out,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst and author of the report. “We found through our research that quality, as in fresh, natural, and nutritious, is the most important healthy eating attribute when they dine out.”
Menus with calories shown also affected how much consumers spent. Average checks for lunch and dinner declined slightly, from $6.40 when calories were absent to $6.20 when calories were disclosed, which Riggs explained could be the result of ordering a smaller portion size, such as French fries.
“The takeaway for restaurant chains is that, in the short term, we expect consumers may react to calorie labeling with some shift in foods/beverages ordered, but expect that old behaviors will return in time,” says Riggs. “Operators may want to plan for some initial shift in product mix when the new menus are presented to consumers. Lower-calorie sides might be highlighted or promoted when the menu change is made, which could assist in keeping order sizes and check sizes up.”
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