Monday, November 23, 2009

Not Quite Time for Change

You may or may not have read about the recent study from New York University that showed that menu labeling laws in New York City are not having an effect on the total number of calories ordered in fast food restaurants. The law in NYC has been in effect for over a year now, so it’s fair to assume that most New Yorkers are pretty use to seeing these numbers. But the results of this study show that the numbers aren’t quite having the effects they were hoping for, at least not yet.

Although the study did show that more people were noticing the numbers, and were in fact influencing buying decisions, the overall number of calories ordered did not drop when compared to when the same study was done before the law went into effect; in fact it was slightly higher.

Why is this? How could these numbers be having the opposite affect than they were intended to?

Some, like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg say that the study was done too soon. Others, like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation say that because eating behaviors are known for being difficult to change (as evidenced by America’s obesity epidemic) calorie posting isn’t enough, and that more needs to be done to help people use these facts.

I have to agree with both of the above arguments, and I’ll also take this opportunity to throw in my own two cents:

People want good food, people also want to be thin and healthy, but from what we’ve seen lately people want good-tasting food more. The article Healthy Menus: Just Don't Call Them Healthy, from Chain Leader author Monica Rogers discusses how some restaurants have been reformulating some of their recipes to be healthier and not telling their diners about it. Why? They’re afraid their diners will think that the taste quality has dropped, even though by some accounts the healthier items were said to be tastier.

Cent two: this study was done in low income areas of NYC. These are communities tend to have higher obesity rates; higher obesity rates due to higher consumption of fast food; higher consumption of fast food due to low income. To make things simple I’ll just agree with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This is going to take more time to fix and it’s going to take more effort.

So what’s next? Do we wait and see what more time will do with menu labeling laws? Or is there something else?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where’s Your Healthy Listing?

A rise in the number of dieting diners has lead many restaurants to provide them with healthier options. And why wouldn’t they? In an industry where 3 in 4* adults are trying to eat healthier when eating out, and about 60%** of diners reporting that healthfulness affects where they dine, the “healthy menu option” is almost a crucial move depending on your target market. But how do you really put yourself out there and let these calorie counters know the good stuff you have to offer? Try the same place we go for most things in life these days – THE INTERNET.

There’s not much that we don’t do online these days, so it’s no wonder that in the $35 billion dollar diet industry a few innovative companies have built online solutions that help hungry people find healthy food.

If you’re looking for the nutrition facts for a particular menu item at a particular chain restaurant in a Google search it’s likely that you may find some results from DietFacts.com. This site lists nutrition facts for 506 restaurants as well as hundreds of store brand products in an alphabetical library listing.

Consumers looking for a little more dietary advice with their facts can go to healthydiningfinder.com. Here, you can type in your zip code to search from over 60,000 restaurant locations for healthy dining options in your area. The criteria for what constitutes a “healthy” option is set by registered dietitians who work with restaurant menus to establish healthy ordering options which are then displayed to the user.

Recently, Global Fitness Media, a company that is devoted to creating online solutions that allow people to live healthier lives launched Good Food Near You, a website and smart phone ap that allows users to search for nearby restaurants that offer menu items of desired calorie, fat, or carbohydrate levels. The user gets to decide what criteria they search and sort by, and what distance radius they would like to search for. Since their recent launch in February 2009 they have already attracted over 300,000 unique users.

These food-finders help serve a dual purpose: 1.) they allow health conscious consumers to find reasonable dining options in their areas that support their goals, and 2.) they can help restaurants with healthy options market to consumers who are looking for them.

Happy Hunting

* Recent Survey from New York City, source: Technomic
** National Restaurant Association’s 2009 Industry Forecast