According to a new NPD Report entitled “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out To Eat,” consumers are finally recognizing the industry’s efforts to promote healthy eating, but they aren’t willing to pay more for healthy options.
The report finds that when asked if consumers would be willing to pay more for healthful items at locations they visited often, 70% percent of adults over 50 says no; 25% say they would pay somewhat more; and only 5% say they would pay a lot more.
Younger adults appear more willing to pay more for healthful items, with 44% of those aged 18 to 24 saying they would expect prices for healthful items to be the same as other items, 41% saying they would expect to pay a little more and 15% saying they would expect to pay a lot more.
Survey respondents also say that they would feel more satisfied after restaurant visits if they had more healthful options available at the same prices as less healthful options, including items on the value menu.
"One of the key takeaways from the study results is that pricing of the healthy options needs to be consistent with pricing of other choices on the menu," Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst and author of the report, says in a press release. "The market for health today is growing and there is a good opportunity for operators who find a way to offer healthier options at lower price points."
Another aspect of the report looked at calorie counts and how posting those affects consumers healthy menu item purchases. According to the press release, respondents were asked to indicate items they would order from two versions of a typical fast food hamburger restaurant menu. Their first exposure was to a typical menu board without calorie information. Their second exposure was to the same menu board but with calorie counts shown alongside the price of each item. The before and after ordering patterns were then compared.
After viewing the menu with the calories posted, consumers ordered items that amounted to fewer calories, however the difference in calories was little. The average number of calories ordered when nutritional information was posted was 901, compared to 1,021 when calories were not posted. The report also found that consumers ordered about the same number of items when calories were posted. They ordered, on average, 3.3 items when calories weren't posted, versus 3.2 items when they were.
"Calories aren't the main priority for diners who are looking for healthy options when they eat out," Riggs says. "We found through our research that quality, as in fresh, natural and nutritious, is the most important healthy eating attribute when they dine out."
Posting calories on menus did have an effect on the order of foods that were already decreasing in purchases—items such as french fries, carbonated soft drinks, one-third-pound hamburgers, shakes and smoothies, onion rings and some chicken sandwiches. The report found that menus with calories posted increased orders for other foods, such as regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, diet carbonated soft drinks, salads without dressing and grilled chicken wraps.
Menus with calorie shown also affected how much consumers spent. Average checks for lunch and dinner declined slightly, from $6.40 when calories were not posted to $6.20 when calories were posted, which Riggs explained could be the result of ordering smaller portion sizes, such as french fries.
When consumers are looking for healthier options, quality is the most important factor, rather than calorie counts, according to the report.
The report found the feature most important to consumers seeking healthy menu options is quality, such as fresh, natural and nutritious ingredients. Fewer calories were among the least important features.
“Typically the perception has been that healthy eating to consumers means low calorie and low fat, and our findings show that the perception is not the reality,” Riggs says in the press release. “Clearly, descriptors like fresh or natural will resonate more with consumers than less calories.”
The report offered a definition of healthy eating and addressed consumer attitudes about the importance of taste. Taste has high importance regardless if consumers are eating healthier items or not, according to the report. Also, some consumers still don’t think healthy food is tasty.
"Understanding these trends provides foodservice operators and manufacturers with the opportunity to offer products that meet consumers' needs for healthier options," says Riggs. "More consumers are seeking healthy/light foods and having these options available on menus will meet these consumers' needs; however, healthful menu options must be fresh, taste good and be affordably priced."
For the full report, visit NPD's website.