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Lower Calorie Foods May Help Restaurants (and Obesity)

Restaurant-goers appear to be selecting the lower-calorie food and beverage items more frequently in recent years, leading to increased sales and more customers for the chain restaurants that offer lower-calorie choices, according to a report released last week by the Hudson Institute.

Lower-Calorie Foods: It's Just Good Business analyzed 21 of the largest US restaurant chains, including McDonald's, Wendy's, Applebee's, Olive Garden and Chili's. The authors evaluated the restaurant offerings and performance between 2006 and 2011. They used data from market research firms and annual reports to calculate sales and customer traffic. Then they developed calorie criteria to define a low-calorie menu items: lower-calorie main course items such as a sandwich that had fewer than 500 calories; beverages had 50 or fewer calories per eight ounces; appetizers and desserts had 150 or fewer calories.

During the five years studied, the report concluded that lower-calorie foods and beverages were the growth engine for the restaurants. In 17 of the 21 restaurant chains evaluated, lower-calorie foods and beverages outperformed those that were not lower-calorie. In addition, chains that increased their servings of lower-calorie items generated:

  • a 5.5 percent increase in same-store sales, compared with a 5.5 percent decline among chains selling fewer lower-calorie servings;
  • a 10.9 percent growth in customer traffic, compared with a 14.7 percent decline; and
  • an 8.9 percent increase in total food and beverage servings, compared with a 16.3 percent decrease.

The authors of the report conclude that restaurant chains now have incentive to offer lower-calorie options, which will improve their business sales and help address the country’s high obesity rates

The report was funded from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Source: The Hudson Institute. “Lower-Calorie Foods: It's Just Good Business,” February 2013.

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