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    Editor’s Note: Counting Calories

    Menu transparency is going to be a major foodservice issue next year, when the new health bill will require all restaurants with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards, and drive-thrus.

    By Bob Ingram

    Menu transparency is going to be a major foodservice issue next year, when the new health bill will require all restaurants with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards, and drive-thrus.

    What does this have to do with supermarkets? Well, Mintel’s latest research shows that more than 60 percent of restaurant-goers think restaurants should post nutritional information on menus, and 44 percent think federal or local governments should facilitate such actions.

    “Menu transparency will allow consumers to have control over their food decisions, with a complete understanding of what they’re eating,” said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Chicago-based Mintel. “However, getting people to eat healthier requires more than just posting calories or adding healthy options to the menu … the food also has to taste good.”

    Only 14 percent of diners said they’re never interested in ordering a healthy restaurant meal, noted Mintel’s report, which shows that patrons are attracted to healthy meals as long as they’re flavorful. Almost half of survey respondents said they ate healthier in restaurants in the past year, and 67 percent said reducing fats was the leading strategy for healthy eating, along with eating more fruits and vegetables (52 percent), and 49 percent of patrons simply ordered less food.

    Added Giandelone, “There may be some initial consumer shock at the calorie counts, and chains may have to start listing lower-calorie options or smaller potion sizes to help diffuse this unpleasant surprise.”

    Again: so what about supermarkets? Well, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans is the only grocery chain that might have 20 restaurants, and a call for information there was politely declined, but smart supermarket operators might take advantage of both the public’s yen for healthier food and the publicity that will surround the enactment of the calorie count bill in restaurants next year by supplying health info about their foodservice offerings. This information could be transmitted in a number of ways: menu boards, printed handouts or on the packaging itself.

    Customers would appreciate the fact that supermarkets care enough about their health to make this information available -- and an appreciative customer is a repeat customer.

    Update: Several Editor’s Notes ago I tipped my hat to the United Fresh Produce Association for its “A Salad Bar in Every School” campaign. The association just revealed that New Orleans schools would be the beneficiaries of the program, a wise and compassionate choice given the chaos of Katrina and the anxiety from the BP spill in the Crescent City. I still think the Salad Bars in Schools program is a good bandwagon for retailers to jump on. Any takers?
     

    By Bob Ingram
    • About Bob Ingram

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