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Nothing to Lose with Better Choices

SPICE OF LIFE: Your patrons want choices when it comes to fruit on the menu.

A majority of Americans don’t know the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines from Adam, but that doesn’t mean restaurants should ignore the basic thinking behind the guidelines. Of 2,000 adults interviewed by Mintel International Group in a recent study conducted for Dole Packaged Foods, 43 percent said they weren’t aware of the new guidelines (which happen to recommend 8-10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day). A whopping 84 percent said they followed their own guidelines, which might account for the epidemic of overweight and obese Americans. Another 34 percent said they were were aware of the guidelines but chose to ignore them.

When 1,000 adults were asked why they didn’t follow a healthy eating plan, the three top reasons included lack of choices at fast food and takeout restaurants; lack of concern about their diet; and the perception that eating healthier is more expensive.

Health considerations factor into restaurant choices for some, but not all, of those surveyed. More than a third (36 percent) seek out places that usually employ healthy cooking methods such as steaming and grilling. About half (51 percent) consider whether a restaurant usually or always menus healthy ingredients. But nearly a third (32 percent) don’t typically think about whether healthy dishes or ingredients are featured.

Whether a restaurant offers healthful choices is more important when the family is dining out—mentioned by 43 percent—versus when dining with co-workers (15 percent). Apparently adults want to set a good example for their offspring.

There is an opportunity for operators who play it the right way. “Restaurants can’t really lose by offering a healthy option; people will gravitate to it,” said David Morris, a Mintel research analyst who summarized the study for a group of journalists earlier this year. Mintel’s study for Dole suggested that diners would warm up to healthier selections if they were given the chance.

An assortment of healthy choices is seen as important at breakfast and dinner, less so at lunch. At breakfast, 62 percent said it was important; at dinner, 61 percent.

In general, ascribing a specific health benefit to a dish, such as “hearth healthy” or “low carb,” is probably not a good way to promote sales of an item. Some 42 percent of respondents said they might be inclined to choose these items, depending on the specific health claim being made, and another 36 percent said they would be more likely to order them. But another 25 percent said they didn’t care one way or another, and 6 percent said they would be less likely to order dishes with health claims attached.

If you’re trying to get guests to try a new fruit item on your menu, your best bet is to label it “natural,” according to the Mintel study. Some 58 percent of survey respondents said claims that a new fruit or fruit-based menu item was natural might persuade them to order it. Calling something organic, promoting its taste or preaching to these guests were deemed much less effective strategies.

Since it was a Dole-sponsored study, a lot of questions concerned fruit on the menu. The majority of respondents (62 percent) said they enjoyed eating desserts with fruit, and nearly the same number (61 percent) liked the idea of mixing it up, enjoying a variety of fruit in a single meal. But don’t mess with Mother Nature, at least not too much: Fruit menu items of most interest involved fruit in an unadulterated state (mixed, in salad, cups; tropical fruit and mixed berries), while fruit as an ingredient (in salsa, soup, relish, sauce) scored much lower in appeal.

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