Survey: Health a low priority while eating out
Only a quarter of consumers actively consider nutrition at restaurants
By TIM HEARDEN
People often say they want healthier choices in restaurants, but they don't always order them when they're available.
The 2010 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report also found most consumers don't blame restaurants for America's obesity problem.
The report, by food-industry consultancy Technomic, looked at both fast-food and sit-down restaurants and found most consumers eat differently during their away-from-home dining experiences.
"They're going out to treat themselves and enjoy away-from-home dining, so that makes health a lower priority for them," said Kelly Weikel, consumer research manager for the Chicago, Ill.-based firm.
The study's findings are consistent with side-by-side comparisons of consumers' answers and actual behavior done by an American Meat Institute economist, said Janet Riley, an AMI spokeswoman.
"It's not a surprise," Riley said of the Technomic report. "There is a difference in what people say they do versus what they actually do when it comes to food."
Consumers queried for Technomic's report shared a wide range of definitions of "healthy," Weikel said. For some consumers, it's ordering a salad to go with their burger as opposed to a lighter or low-fat main meal, she said.
Nearly half of consumers say they want healthier menu items, but only a quarter of them actively consider nutrition when dining out, the survey found. However, only 19 percent of consumers said they expect foods marked "healthy" on a menu wouldn't taste as good as other offerings.
Two out of five consumers said their at-home eating is "very healthy," while only about a quarter of them said the same about their away-from-home dining, according to the report.
For consumers looking for healthful options, restaurants can use positive mental imagery on their menus to entice diners, such as describing foods as locally grown rather than using a negative term like "diet," Weikel said.
At restaurants that post calorie counts with each menu offering, the information may discourage people from ordering higher-calorie items initially, she said. But once "the shock has worn out," most consumers will either treat themselves anyway or include a healthful element to their meal, she said.
American Meat Institute: www.meatami.com