Study links sales with lower-calorie menu options

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — Restaurant chains that increased their servings of lower-calorie foods and beverages from 2006 to 2011 demonstrated superior same-store sales growth, increased restaurant consumer traffic and made gains in overall restaurant servings, according to the report “Lower-calorie foods; It’s just good business” released Feb. 7 by the Hudson Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative.

The report analyzed 21 restaurant chains and used companies’ annual reports and data market from research firms to assess same-store sales, total store sales, total food and beverage servings, and customer traffic from 2006-11.

Traffic count was up 10.9% for restaurants that increased lower-calorie servings, which compared to 1.8% for the 21 chains combined. Same-store sales grew 5.5% for restaurants that increased lower-calorie servings, which compared to a drop of 0.8% for the 21 chains combined.

“Consumers are hungry for restaurant meals that won’t expand their waist lines, and the chains that recognize this are doing better than those that don’t,” said Hank Cardello, lead author of the report, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute and director of the institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative.

To qualify as a lower-calorie menu item, a center-of-the-plate item had to be 500 calories or less, a side dish had to be 150 calories or less, a beverage had to be 50 calories or less per 8-oz serving, an appetizer had to be 150 calories or less and a dessert had to be 150 calories or less.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided support for the report. Restaurant chains analyzed were Applebee’s, Burger King, Carraba’s Italian Grill, Chili’s, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Arby’s, IHOP, Wendy’s, LongHorn Steakhouse, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, On The Border, Panera Bread, Olive Garden, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Red Lobster, KFC, Chick-fil-A and Sonic.

The Hudson Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative seeks to bring about practical, market-oriented solutions to the world’s overweight and obesity epidemic.
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