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.

Salt in popular restaurant meals twice the amount a child should have in a day

New research published on 2 February 2009 by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that many popular meals eaten in UK high-street restaurants can contain large amounts of salt, in some cases more than twice the daily maximum limit for an adult in a single meal.

CASH worked with Trading Standards officers around the country to measure the salt content of 96 popular menu items from 16 high street restaurant chains.  Samples were purchased from the restaurants and analysed for their salt content by the Public Analyst.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the main course dishes contained 3g of salt or more, the maximum daily limit for a six year-old and half the adult daily limit, and seven of these contained 6g of salt or more, the maximum daily limit for an adult.  The saltiest dishes were not confined to one or two restaurants – six out of the sixteen (over one third, 38%) restaurants surveyed served a popular main course dish containing 6g of salt or more.

The saltiest main course surveyed was Old Orleans Chicken Fajitas, with 8.8g of salt per serving.  Old Orleans also serves Wings and Ribs with 7.6g of salt per portion.  A Pizza Express American Hot Pizza contains 7.5g of salt per portion and a Wagamama Ramen contains 7.2g of salt per serving.  By comparison, a popular main meal at Beefeater of Sirloin Steak, grilled tomato, flat mushroom and chips contains only 0.4g of salt.

American Hot Pizza

American Hot Pizza

Starters and side dishes were also surveyed, with Old Orleans Chicken Wings with spicy BBQ sauce and blue cheese dressing containing almost 5g of salt per portion. Strada Aglio Garlic Bread contains 3.3g of salt per portion, over half the adult recommended daily limit.

Restaurant

Dish

Salt per Portion (g)

Old Orleans

Chicken Fajitas

8.84

Old Orleans

Wings and Ribs (with fries)

7.59

Pizza Express

American Hot Classic Pizza

7.5

Wagamamas

Wagamama ramen

7.2

Zizzi

Pizza Sofia

6.7

ASK

Fiesta Di Carne Pizza

6.55

Frankie and Benny’s

Chicken Penne Romana

6.0

 

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s Hospital in London said:

“Keeping our salt consumption below the recommended maximum levels is vital.  If we are to reduce the numbers of people needlessly dying from heart attacks and strokes, then we all need to keep a check on our salt intake.  The food industry in this country is leading the world in reducing the amount of salt it adds to the foods we buy in shops and supermarkets, and labelling those foods clearly so that we can make informed decisions about the products we buy.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for foods we eat in restaurants.  It simply beggars belief that almost five years after the Food Standards Agency launched its salt reduction programme, and with all the publicity there has been about the 6g a day target, some high street restaurants have done nothing to reduce the amount of salt they add to their meals.  If they had even considered this issue then we wouldn’t be finding meals containing more than a day’s salt limit in a single course.  By comparison, ready meals sold in supermarkets have had their salt content reduced considerably over the last few years, and when we last surveyed them, we found only a very few with salt contents over 3g salt per serving.”

Raymond Blanc, Chef Patron of the Manoir Au Quat’ Saisons said,

“I believe that good food does not need more than the very lightest of seasoning – there is no reason for good chefs to mask the flavour of their ingredients by adding too much salt. Remember herby, sour, bitter and acid are also wonderful catalysts of flavour.”

For information about a two-day course in Somerset, UK, tailored to equip caterers, and those involved in encouraging healthier catering practices, with information and practical tools to achieve healthier eating in the population, please click here.