Serving lower-calorie foods is good business for restaurants. A new study shows that between 2006 and 2011, lower-calorie foods and beverages were the key growth engine for restaurants studied, including:
- a 5.5 percent increase in same-store sales when compared with a 5.5 percent decline among chains selling fewer lower-calorie servings
- a 10.9 percent growth in customer traffic when compared with a 14.7 percent decline
- an 8.9 percent increase in total food and beverage servings, when compared with a 16.3 percent decrease
The study, conducted by The Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, revolves around calories and does not address other nutritional aspects of the food.
“This report shows that companies can serve both their interest in healthy profits and their customers’ interest in healthier eating,” said James S. Marks, MD, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We need more companies to make this shift, and now they have even more reasons to do so.”
Obesity rates in America have been growing for several decades, taking an enormous toll on our health and on our health care costs. Efforts to educate the public and calls for improved food labeling may be paying off. More restaurants are beginning to offer alternatives to fat and calorie-laden foods.
The study involved 21 national restaurant chains: Applebee’s, Burger King, Carrabba’s, Chili’s, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Arby’s, iHop, Wendy’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, On the Border, Panera Bread, Olive Garden, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Red Lobster, KFC, Chick-fil-A, and Sonic. From 2006 to 2011, the lower-calorie foods and beverages outperformed other choices in 17 of these chains. Lower-calorie items were the key growth engine for foods and beverages. The chains that did not increase their lower-calorie choices recorded declines.
Study authors concluded that both fast-food and dine-in restaurant chains that grew their lower-calorie choices had better business results.
Perhaps if providing lower calorie or healthier choices isn’t enough incentive on its own, the bottom line will be.
“Consumers are hungry for restaurant meals that won’t expand their waist lines, and the chains that recognize this are doing better than those that don’t,” said Hank Cardello, lead author of the report, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, and Director of the Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative.