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Diners Look Beyond Calorie Counts

Whether the display of nutrition information on restaurant menus leads consumers to order a more healthy meal is up for debate. What’s not, it seems, is that consumers want this information—and increasingly, they expect it.

In Jodi Schoenauer’s last two years as director of marketing and sales at Nath Companies, which runs Axel’s and Bonfire restaurants, requests came in daily from customers wondering where they could find nutritional information. And when Schoenauer tried to explain why—because Nath has fewer than 20 locations it isn’t required to provide nutrition counts—she was met with hostility.

“Customers really didn’t care (about regulations) and they just got flat out angry,” said Schoenauer, even as she attempted to tell them how much of a cost burden it is for small operators (the two concepts have 10 locations between them) to have their recipes analyzed. “I looked into Nath doing it in-house but quickly found it was cost-prohibitive.”

Still, Schoenauer sought a solution because “there’s been a stratospheric rise in consumers interested in this information,” she continued, citing a recent USDA Economic Research Service report that showed 76 percent of adults would use the nutritional information provided on restaurant menus.

Eventually Schoenauer learned of Healthy Dining Finder, whose culinary dietitians provide nutrient analysis—with a focus on calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium—and identify allergens while the service’s marketing arm promotes participating restaurants on its website (www.healthydiningfinder.com), allowing consumers to search for eateries that offer healthy options in their area.

“Guests these days are a lot more interested and cognizant of nutrition,” explained Erica Bohm, vice president and director of strategic partnerships for the San Diego-based service. “They’re looking for solutions when they go out—where can they go and what can they order that won’t break the bank nutritionally.”

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