Marketing to Women: Will Calorie Counts on Menus Change What We Order?

March 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you are a fan of Eat This, Not That, then new FDA regulation might help you in making dining decisions.  Here’s the question:  if we know how many calories are in a meal, will it cause us to rethink our order?  The new proposed calorie counts to be added to some menus will give us news we can use. And NPD has done some research to see how consumers react.

To find out if calorie information causes behavior modification in restaurants, NPD conducted a study with adult consumers asked to order from two versions of a typical quick-service menu. One menu was the original while the other included calorie counts for regular menu items.

The research shows that ordering decisions varied little from one menu to the other.  Those guests with calories listed on their menu tended to order items with an average of 901 calories, while those ordering from the no-calorie menu ordered an average of 1,021 calories.

However, consumers did try to make some healthier choices.  The research saw declines in orders of third-pound burgers, fries, carbonated soft drinks, shakes and smoothies, onion rings and some chicken sandwiches. These items were already declining in popularity before the study.   The changes in menu selection were offset by increased orders of regular burgers and cheeseburgers, diet carbonated drinks, salads without dressing and grilled chicken wraps.

Check averages only dipped to $6.20 from $6.40 when calorie data was present.

Americans still like choice, and most restaurant folks will tell you that people do not go out to eat to stay on a diet.  In fact, items that appear to be “diet friendly” typically have low attraction for most diners.  However, the research does show that diners are interested in fresh and healthy options.  The study also indicates restaurants may have some product mix changes, but in general, the calories counts will not scare diners away.  Instead, restaurant chains will need to focus on flavor profiles, freshness and portion size.

Changes in behavior will not happen immediately.  A recent study conducted by New York University looked at habits among children of low-income families visiting quick service restaurants McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.  Here’s their findings:

“The children and teens in the study ate an average of 645 calories per meal before and after the labeling rules took effect. Nearly 60 percent of the children said they had noticed the calorie counts on restaurant menus before ordering, but more than 90 percent said the labels didn’t influence how they ordered. Even when parents ordered the food for their children, the calorie information on menus had no effect on how much the children consumed.?”

Restaurants with 20 or more locations are waiting for new FDA menu labeling regulations that will add calorie counts to menus.  The change in menus could go into effect the second half of 2012.

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§ 2 Responses to Marketing to Women: Will Calorie Counts on Menus Change What We Order?

  • Raquel Masco says:

    Calories counts normally affect what I eat or order…unless I’m really hungry or haven’t eaten all day. I think what we eat usually changes when we’re actively working towards a goal.

  • Debra Gaynor says:

    Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese — we have to start making changes. I am glad to see there were small changes. As a country, we didn’t get this fat overnight. And we’re not going to start eating smarter overnight either. Awareness is the first step and I really support calorie counts on menus.

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