Foodservice Brief - December 2010
Anticipating Calorie Counts on Menus
Legislation passed in March 2010 requires chain restaurants to display calorie information for standard menu items, as well as calories for each serving of food at a salad bar or buffet line. The timetable for compliance is unclear at this time ö FDA-proposed requirements are expected by March 2011.
How will this be accepted by consumers?
Will it cause them to order differently?
Having an early read on consumersā reaction means you can take steps to address shifts in ordering patterns. Areas of menu emphasis and marketing schedules could be ready before menus and menu boards are changed.
To gauge consumersā response to the legislation, NPD conducted an online survey 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 as they would see it today, with prices shown but 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.
- Exposure to calorie counts on menus resulted in ordering fewer calories for lunch/dinner at a typical fast food hamburger restaurant
- The reduction in calories was not driven by ordering fewer items, as order size was about the same with both versions of the menu
- Spending slipped a bit when exposed to the menu with calories
The table below compares the menu importance of popular foods/beverages at typical fast food hamburger restaurants when viewing a typical menu without calories and the importance when selecting items from the same menu but with calories shown. Frequently-ordered foods and beverages are grouped and ranked by whether they decline or increase in menu importance after exposure to calorie labeling.
There is some shift to lower-calorie foods and beverages when consumers are exposed to calorie information. Foods dipping notably in menu importance from this list of products include French fries, onion rings and regular soft drinks. The items that benefit are salads, grilled chicken wraps, diet soft drinks and regular-sized burgers/cheeseburgers.
This study reveals an immediate reaction to exposure to menus labeled with calories. As with many other responses to new information, old habits often return with time. 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 change is made ö this could assist in keeping order sizes and check sizes up. Note that while the menu importance contracted when consumers were exposed to the menu with calories, French fries and regular carbonated soft drinks remained the two most popular items ordered.
Perceptions of value received with foods and beverages on each version of the fast food hamburger menu were somewhat linked to price paid. Consumers were also asked, “how good a value are these items overall?” Regardless of whether viewing the menu with calories shown alongside item price or the version with price and no calorie information, consumer value rankings were much the same. The highest value rating (very good/somewhat good) was given to baked potatoes; the lowest was given to chicken nuggets, carbonated soft drinks, and iced tea.
The lower-priced items were given higher ratings than some of the items with higher price points. Perhaps this pattern should be expected, given respondents had only price and calorie counts to consider. Still, some items, regardless of price, received particularly low value ratings.
- Lunch/dinner orders will contain fewer calories
- Order size and check size will slip slightly
- The reduction in calories consumed will be driven by order switching from higher-calorie to some lower-calorie items
- In particular, lower ordering is likely to occur with French fries, regular soft drinks, and onion rings
- While value perceptions were not influenced by the addition of calorie exposure, it is worth noting consumers’ surprisingly low value scores assigned to carbonated soft drinks, chicken nuggets/strips, and iced tea
At least in the short term, we expect consumers may react to calorie labeling with some shift in foods/beverages ordered. Planning for the shift through portion size options or promoting lower-calorie sides or similar options at the time the change is made may soften the impact and protect order sizes and check sizes ö supporting customers’ health at the same time.
In order to meet customer needs and also to diminish legislative pressure, operators and their suppliers will be in position to deliver more healthful meals by knowing . . .
- In consumers’ own words, what healthy eating means
- How perceptions of healthy eating vary by type of restaurant
- Consumers’ perceptions of their own eating habits
To learn more about the Consumers Speak Out About Healthy Eating When They Go Out To Eat report, contact your NPD representative or Bonnie Riggs at 847-692-1767