Healthy items on restaurant menu still struggle to gain acceptance

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 23rd June 2009

Despite the buzz about healthy dining and restaurant nutrition labelling, healthy menu items still face a tough battle for acceptance, according to Mintel Menu Insights.

In a survey in America, the market research firm discovered that only one in five rank food health as an important factor when ordering dinner. Far more essential are taste and hunger satisfaction, selected by 77% and 44% of respondents, respectively, when describing what they look for on a dinner menu. And, although over three-quarters of adults claim they’d like to see more healthy items on the menu, barely half (51%) say they usually order them. Such a finding correlates with recent research suggesting that providing healthy options at fast-food outlets and restaurants can actually encourage unhealthy choices.

restaurant food

“There’s definitely a dichotomy between what people say they want and what they actually do when it comes to healthy restaurant eating,” Director of Mintel Menu Insights and registered dietitian, Maria Caranfa, advised. “Over eight in 10 adults told us it’s very or somewhat important to them to eat healthy, but when it comes to dining out, most people are really looking for taste, texture and experience. So healthy menu items need to perfect the balance between nutrition and flavour.”

Price remains a deterrent to healthy restaurant fare, especially as the economy weighs down people’s finances. Over half of Mintel’s survey respondents (54%) say eating healthy at restaurants is more expensive than not eating healthy. Maria Caranfa agrees that “when it comes to healthy menu items, the prices are often higher and less promoted.”

Additionally, even though restaurants are creating more nutritious food and drink, “healthy” items are still dwarfed by regular and unhealthy menu items. Mintel Menu Insights found that during Q1 2009, only 5% of new items carried a nutritional claim, while nearly one in five new food items was fried.

Despite obstacles faced by the healthy food menu, pressure exists around the world for restaurants to add more wholesome options. Governments are trying to increase nutrition labelling on menus, a move which could be seen here in Australia after taking off in the US. Mintel’s discovered over three-quarters of diners want more menu transparency on food health.

“Restaurants need to make ‘healthy’ food appeal on flavour, freshness and satiety benefits, not just on calorie and fat information,” Ms Caranfa recommended. “People seek fresh ingredients and more vegetables in healthy food, both of which can be promoted in a positive way. Healthy dining should be as satisfying as ordering from the regular menu.”