THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A leaner menu may lead to a
fatter wallet for those invested in the restaurant industry,
According to a new analysis, business improved when restaurant
chains offered more low-calorie fare.
After monitoring 21 of the largest restaurant chains in the
United States for five years, researchers found that those that
increased the amount of reduced-calorie options they served had
better sales growth, greater increases in customer traffic and
stronger gains in total servings than their competitors who offered
fewer lower-calorie options.
"Consumers are hungry for restaurant meals that won't expand their waist lines, and the chains that recognize this are doing better than those that don't," the report's lead author, Hank Cardello, said in a news release from the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"The bottom line is that it's good business to sell more lower-calorie and better-for-you products," said Cardello, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the institute's Obesity Solutions Initiative. "This holds true for major food and beverage companies and for restaurants."
The researchers analyzed market research data and the annual
reports of fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger
King and Taco Bell, as well as sit-down chains, such as Applebee's,
Olive Garden, Chili's and Outback Steakhouse. They also developed
calorie criteria to assess the chains' menus with the help of
colleagues from the Nutrition Coordinating Center at the University
Lower-calorie main-course menu items had no more than 500
calories. Drinks were considered lower-calorie if they had 50 or
fewer calories per 8 ounces. Appetizers, side dishes and desserts
with no more than 150 calories were also considered lower-calorie
The analysis revealed that between 2006 and 2011, lower-calorie
foods and beverages outperformed other menu items in 17 of the 21
restaurant chains. The chains that increased their reduced-calorie
options saw a boost in business, including a 5.5 percent jump in
same-store sales, a nearly 11 percent increase in customer traffic
and about a 9 percent increase in total food and beverage
Meanwhile, the chains that offered fewer lower-calorie servings
had a 5.5 percent drop in same-store sales, a nearly 15 percent
decline in traffic and about a 16 percent reduction in total
servings, the investigators found.
The report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also
revealed that lower-calorie food servings increased as a percentage
of total servings across all 21 chains. Over the course of the
study, the chains had an increase of roughly 472 million orders for
lower-calorie foods and beverages. Meanwhile, servings of items
that did not meet the lower-calorie criteria dropped by 1.3
Dr. James Marks, senior vice president and director of the
Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the report
"shows that companies can serve both their interest in healthy
profits and their customers' interest in healthier eating. We need
more companies to make this shift, and now they have even more
reasons to do so."
The researchers pointed out all the chains included in the
report have a combined $102 billion in annual U.S. sales and 49
percent of the revenue of the top 100 restaurant chains.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
healthy food environments.