Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ordering by Numbers

Getting more for less is the American way; it’s what we look for when we buy, and what we market when we sell. Since the economy took a turn for the worst we’ve been seeing a rise in “more food for less money” promotion (i.e. 3 courses for only $15.99). Now, we’re beginning to see a new kind of “more for less” special offered throughout the industry. What was once “choose from 5 meals under $10.99” is now “choose from 5 meals under 600 CALORIES”. Calories are a new currency for diners to barter with, and restaurants are happy to provide them with “deals” that don’t have anything to do with price.

Now that healthy eating is becoming a must for so many American consumers it makes sense that they are putting themselves on calorie budgets. With Americans eating out as much as we do it’s no wonder why consumers are putting pressure on the food industry to help them stick to their regiments. I know that many of you may be reading this and thinking the classic argument “people know that when they’re eating a cheeseburger it’s bad for them”, and yes, to that I say you’re right, they do, but do they know that when they’re eating a stuffed salad it may be higher in fat than that cheeseburger? or that by passing on a petite steak they may be overlooking a healthy option? Most don’t, and that’s why they’re asking.

Subway was the first chain to offer healthy deals in the form of “7 great subs under 7 grams of fat”. Now restaurants like Applebee’s have jumped on the bandwagon with their own caloric “value meals” with their under 550 calorie menu. The campaign is all about the bargain – all this great food for under 550 calories, no skimpy portions, and all the great taste you come to expect without braking the caloric bank; now that’s value!

McDonald’s, Starbucks, and many others have also added lighter calorie options to their menus, and with good reason. A study by the University of Missouri showed that consumers were willing to pay up to $2.00 more per menu item for low calorie options that have accompanying nutrition information. And, in a more recent study done by Stanford University, Starbucks profits showed a slight increase in some locations after calorie values were provided.

Whether it be purse strings or waistlines consumers are looking to budget and get a deal. Limiting calories in meals may be a new and scary step for chefs to take on, but it’s paving the way for innovation n in both cooking and marketing.

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