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NPD: Calorie Info Brings Modest Changes

Calorie counts cause some consumers to shift orders from large burgers to smaller burgers.

Including calorie information on menus has a modest impact on consumer ordering behavior according to research by The NPD Group. On average, the total number of calories declined by nearly 12% with calorie counts. Of interest to restaurateurs is that listing calories decreased average check by about 3%. And consumers don’t give up burgers: Some people simply order smaller ones. 

NPD released its findings on the eve of the Food and Drug Administration’s expected release of proposed regulations for the federal menu labeling law. That legislation mandates that chains with 20 or more locations include calorie information on menu boards for standard items (limited-time specials get a pass). The requirement could go into effect during the second half of 2012. 

NPD’s “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Out to Eat” survey finds that the average number of calories ordered per meal was 1,021 without posted information, compared with 901 calories when information was provided. The number of items ordered declined slightly to 3.3 from 3.2 when calories were posted. And the average check dipped to $6.20 from $6.40 when calorie data was present. 

NPD says calorie counts resulted in declines in orders of third-pound burgers, fries, carbonated soft drinks, shakes and smoothies, onion rings and some chicken sandwiches. NPD says these items already were declining in popularity. The decreases were balanced by increased orders of regular burgers and cheeseburgers, diet carbonated drinks, salads without dressing and grilled chicken wraps. 

“Calories aren’t the main priority for diners who are looking for healthy options when they eat out,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst and author of the report says in a release. “We found through our research that quality, as in fresh, natural, and nutritious, is the most important healthy eating attribute when they dine out. 

“The takeaway for restaurant chains is that, in the short term, we expect consumers may react to calorie labeling with some shift in foods/beverages ordered, but expect that old behaviors will return in time,” says Riggs.

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