Consumers Want More Healthy Options, But Price Still Matters

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Americans are looking for more healthful options at restaurants and other foodservice outlets but define healthy eating based on quality features rather than fewer calories, according to a recent foodservice market research report by The NPD Group.

NPD's report, "Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat," finds that a significant share of foodservice traffic is driven by healthy eating behaviors and one of the top motivations for more healthful eating is to feel healthier. 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.

QUALITY VS. CALORIES

"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," says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD. "Clearly, descriptors like fresh or natural will resonate more with consumers than less calories."

In addition to defining healthful eating, the report also addressed consumer attitudes about the importance of the taste. Consumers place a high importance on taste regardless if they are eating healthfully or not, and some consumers equate healthier foods as not being as tasty. The majority of consumers expect to pay the same for healthier foods as those considered less healthy.

"Understanding these trends provide 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."

PRICE STILL MATTERS

Menu prices will pose a dilemma for restaurants this year as operators struggle with rising commodity costs and consumers who remain focused on value, according to a new study by AlixPartners LLP.

Survey respondents expect to spend 5% less on each meal at restaurants this year, or an average of $12.90 per meal versus $13.60 in 2010.
In addition, 11% of respondents said they expect to spend $5 or less per meal this year, up from 6% who said the same thing last year. Sixty percent of consumers surveyed said they plan to use coupons and promotions to lower their tabs.
While saving money is the biggest reason cited by consumers who plan to dine out less frequently this year, 50% said they would cut back on restaurant visits in order to eat more healthfully.

This focus on saving money, coupled with the desire to eat healthier will put pressure on companies to take a hard look at their menus and the price-value equation they’re presenting to the increasingly frugal and health-conscious consumer,” said Adam Werner, a managing director at AlixPartners.

[Source:  "Foodservice Market Research: Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat."  The NPD Group.  8 Feb. 2011.  Web.  17 Feb. 2011; Study by AlixPartners LLP.  12 Jan. 2011.  Web.  17 Feb. 2011.]