Current Weather
The Spy FM

Chain Restaurants Boost Sales With Lower-Calorie Foods

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
February 7, 2013

Lower-calorie foods are driving growth and profits for chain restaurants, according to fresh research, suggesting that people are making smarter choices when it comes to burgers and fries.

We’re still ordering the burger and fries, mind you. But we’re going for smaller portions and shunning sugary drinks. French fry sales dropped about 2 percent from 2006 to 2011, while sales of lower-calorie beverages rose 10 percent, the study found.

That should make for happy restaurant chains, which have argued that Americans really don’t want salads and other healthy offerings pushed by public health officials.

The report, from the Hudson Institute, analyzed sales at 21 restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Burger King, Cracker Barrel, IHOP, Panera Bread and KFC.

Restaurants that offered more lower-calorie services saw a 9 percent increase in food and beverage sales from 2006 to 2011, while restaurants that didn’t saw sales drop by 16 percent.

The researchers defined lower calorie as a main item with fewer than 500 calories, a side dish with fewer than 150 calories, and a beverage below 50 calories for an eight-ounce serving.

“You go to McDonald’s and get a plain old burger, and you don’t get many calories,” says Hank Cardello, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of the report. It was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A former food industry executive at companies like Coca-Cola and General Mills, Cardello is of the belief that badgering people about eating healthy isn’t necessarily the only way — or the best way — to solve the nation’s obesity crisis.

“We found some good performance in restaurants that were selling smaller-portion chicken sandwiches,” Cardello says. Even if that’s a fried chicken sandwich, he notes, smaller means fewer calories. And for the restaurants, “You don’t give up profits by doing that.”

New federal regulations requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts will take effect next year, but some, including McDonald’s, already provide that information. Earlier studies have found that posted calorie counts don’t drive people to make better choices, and that they can actually be so confusing as to be useless. But this study suggests that people are starting to pay attention.

Cardello hopes the dollar figures will get restaurateurs to pay attention, too.

“The restaurant industry as a whole is a very show-me industry; show me why I should change.” He knows he’s not going to convert the chains to being public-health advocates. but now, the chains will know that they should “get with the program, or you leave money on the table.”

Editor’s Note: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also funds coverage of health care on NPR. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

2PM to 3PM The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party

Think NPR meets Vanity Fair. In each episode, hosts Rico Gagliano & Brendan Francis Newnam talk with some of the world's most interesting celebrities, and along the way equip you with bad jokes, fresh drink recipes, hot food finds, odd news stories... and etiquette tips from the likes of Henry Rollins and Dick Cavett. It's all you need to get an edge in your weekend conversations. Past guests include Michelle Williams, Judd Apatow, Kid Cudi and Sir Richard Branson. Wallpaper magazine calls The Dinner Party one of the Top 40 Reasons To Live In The USA.

Listen Live Now!

3PM to 4PM The Splendid Table

The Splendid Table

Hosted by award-winning Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table is a culinary, culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone.

View the program guide!

4PM to 5PM Weekend All Things Considered

Weekend All Things Considered

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center