Foodservice Brief - April 2011
Consumer Taste Perceptions of Menu Items Described as Healthy
Information revealed in a concept test we conducted in 2007 continues to be relevant today for marketers who are considering the addition of healthy options to their menus. The intent of the test was to evaluate the appeal, believability, and importance of “healthful” attributes (described as natural, hormone-free, organic, etc.) of a “healthy” menu item vs. a regular menu item.
The area found to be among the most challenging for those planning to extend their menus to include more healthy options was the matter of taste as associated with the menu item perceived as good for you and healthy.
A breakfast sandwich was chosen for concept comparison because of its broad consumer appeal and unprecedented growth. The appeal of a breakfast sandwich described with a variety of “healthful” attributes was tested with a sample of consumers against the same sandwich described without those words and attributes evaluated against a separate sample of consumers. The split sample allowed for assessment of differences in perceptions and purchase intent.
Healthy menu items have high potential for earning halo benefits around health, diet concerns, and higher quality
Without mention of calories, fat content, or health claims, the concept with the healthful attributes was more likely to be described by consumers as healthy, nutritious, and of high quality:
The challenge is in addressing perceptions of less taste for menu items believed to be more healthy and nutritious than others. Additional hurdles include perceptions of their being less satisfying and filling.
There are many reasons to market more healthful menu items
Consumers say they desire healthy options, and a sizable share of traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviors. Packaged goods manufacturers are making concerted efforts to reduce reliance on sodium, sugars, and fats in products they offer, and foodservice must be able to compete against their claims. Legislators are pushing and pursuing the matter of healthy options in a variety of ways – it would be advantageous to get ahead of the regulations. But, does the perception of less taste for healthy foods stand in the way of success?
Pricing and price point are also of importance in marketing more healthful menu items
We know from our recently published report Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out To Eat that pricing of the healthy options needs to be consistent with pricing of other choices on the menu. This is another challenge in delivering desired choices. The majority of consumers, especially those 50+ years old (who express more interest in healthful foods than their younger counterparts), expect to pay no more for healthier items than they do for other menu items. The pricing analysis done as part of the concept test showed that while trial of the more healthful item could be achieved with a higher price point, the price at which the maximum revenue was generated was the same price for both sandwiches.
While there is a market for health today, the main challenges to success may be taste and price. An opportunity exists for those who can overcome these barriers. A trial strategy may be needed to convince consumers of satisfying taste of the more healthful foods. As an example, one that comes to mind is the Life cereal ads aired a while ago with “Mikey.”
In general, attitudes do not change quickly. But with the growing attention healthy eating has been receiving lately, Americans’ point of view may be evolving. If you would like to see us take another look at taste and price, with menu items positioned against consumers’ desire for having more healthful menu options, please contact Bonnie Riggs at 847-692-1767 (email@example.com).