Healthy Food Healthy Business

Eating out is no longer an occasional luxury.  Consumers in the UK spent a staggering £81 billion on catering services in 2008 (1) and sales on food eaten out have increased by 23 percent since 2003 (2).  Market surveys estimate that between 7.5 and 8.5 billion meals were eaten out in the UK in 2009 (3).  DEFRA statistics suggest that one in every six meals in the UK is eaten out and the catering industry provides at least three meals per week for the average person in Britain (1).  Approximately 20 to 30 percent of each household’s food budget is spent on food and drink consumed outside the home (1). 

So what are the most important factors driving consumer food choices in the eating out market?

Recent surveys by the Food Standards Agency (4) and leading market research organizations (3), as well as sales data from supermarkets (5), indicate that health consciousness has moved right to the top of the consumer agenda. There is growing evidence that consumers are beginning to give health similar priority to price and value for money when deciding what to eat. 

Worldwide, more than 60 percent of deaths are caused by chronic diseases (6), thus almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.  Public awareness of the key role played by diet in the development of many of these diseases is increasing.  People are therefore concerned about the amount of calories, salt, saturated fat and sugar they are consuming.  As eating out becomes more common, the nutritional quality of the eating out diet is starting to receive scrutiny.

Latest figures show that 11 percent of total energy intake comes from eating out (1).  This number would be substantially higher if alcohol consumption were included.  The eating out diet has more fat and less carbohydrate than the household diet. 

Several consumer surveys conducted in the UK and the USA between 2006 and 2009 point to a growing demand for healthier menu items and a frustration at this need not being met (3) (7) (8) (9).  In one UK survey conducted by Consumer Focus (10), 94 percent of respondents indicated a desire for increased availability of healthier food when eating out.  At the same time, Datamonitor reported that 35 percent of European consumers cannot find healthier menu items when dining out (8).  On top of this, consumers are beginning to request more information about the provenance of their food and its nutritional content (11). 

Supermarkets have already reacted to this trend and implemented front of pack ‘traffic light labelling’ to provide consumers with information on the content of major nutrients and on whether the item is relatively healthy (green) or unhealthy (amber or red).  In 2009, Sainsbury’s reported a dramatic shift in purchasing patterns as a consequence of introducing such labels.  Sales of healthier items increased by 40 to 97 percent, whilst those of less healthy items decreased by 30 to 40 percent (5).

The National Restaurant Association reported that 60 percent of US consumers are aware of calorie information when making menu choices and 25 percent use this information to influence their choices (12).  A study published by Stanford University in January 2010 looked at the impact of mandatory calorie labelling in Starbucks in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  They found that calorie posting led to a 6 percent reduction in calories per transaction.  This was entirely related to food choices and did not affect beverage consumption.  Interestingly, in Starbucks outlets within 50m of a competitor, the calorie posting led to an increase in Starbucks’ revenue (13).

In the UK, the FSA started working with 18 large catering businesses in 2009 to provide voluntary labelling of calorie content of menu items; the outcome of this is still being evaluated.

So the evidence suggests that today’s eating out consumers are cost-conscious, health-conscious and ethically-conscious.  The successful catering business will capitalise on these trends and create value by delivering what the consumer wants.

The good news is that making small and simple changes to menus to reduce content of calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar can enhance both health and profit margins.  Training courses are available to provide information and practical suggestions about how this can be achieved (14).

For example, there is plenty of scope to reduce portion size and reduce costs and food wastage.  The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in February 2010 shows that average intake of protein is almost double that of the guideline intake (15).  Protein content of dishes can thus be reduced, thereby reducing cost.  Likewise, a number of businesses have reported increased margins as a result of reducing fat content of their menu items.

As life expectancy of the burgeoning world population continues to rise along with the incidence of overweight and obesity, the number of people with chronic diseases will increase.  There is also an increase in the number of the “worried well”.  Health consciousness is likely to intensify and caterers who provide healthier menu choices will position themselves to generate healthier businesses.

For further information and practical suggestions for providing healthier menu items, please come to a Healthier Catering Training Course in the UK.  Suitable for caterers and for professionals involved in encouraging healthy eating in the population.

Works Cited

1. DEFRA. Food Statistics Pocketbook. 2009.

2. Mintel. Eating Out Review. 2009.

3. Allegra Strategies. Review. 2009.

4. Food Standards Agency. Quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker. December 2009.

5. Sainsbury’s. Effect of food labelling on food purchasing choices. 2009.

6. World Health Organisation. World Health Report. 2002.

7. Nestle Professional. 2010.

8. Datamonitor. Workplace consumption: targeting a captive audience. 2005.

9. Aramark (NYSE, RMK) Dining Styles. Research presented to clinical researchers and health professionals at the 2006 NAASO Obesity Summit in Boston October 22-24. 2006.

10. Consumer Focus. s.l. : http://www.consumerfocus.org, 2006.

11. Food Standards Agency. June 2008.

12. National Restaurant Association. 2008.

13. Bollinger, B., Leslie, P. and Sorenson, A. Calorie posting in chain restaurants. s.l. : Stanford University, http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/StarbucksCaloriePostingStudy.pdf, January 2010.

14. Philpott, J.K. Healthier Catering Training Courses. s.l. : http://www.cookingforhealth-uk.com/healthier-catering.php.

15. Food Standards Agency and Department of Health. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Headline results from Year 1 of the Rolling Programme 2008-2009. s.l. : FSA and DoH, February 2010.

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