CHICAGO — Calorie information on menus is likely to have little long-term effect on consumer ordering habits, according to The NPD Group.
“Calories aren’t the main priority for diners who are looking for healthy options when they eat out,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst and author of the “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat” 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.”
The NPD study found that while having calories on the menu caused consumers to order items that amounted to fewer calories, the difference was small. The average number of calories ordered before calories were posted was 1,021 and this went down to 901 calories when the information was posted. Consumers also ordered about the same number of items when calories were posted. However, having calories on the menu did cause a decline in ordering foods that are already declining in restaurants servings (french fries, soft drinks, one-third-lb hamburgers, shakes and smoothies, onion rings and some chicken sandwiches), and increased orders for other foods such as regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, diet soft drinks, salads without dressings and grilled chicken wraps. Additionally, the check average for lunch and dinner declined slightly when calories were posted from $6.40 to $6.20.
“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,” Ms. Riggs said. “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.”