Calorie information on menus can help consumers and businesses

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Recent regulations in countries like Australia and the USA require restaurants and fast food establishments to display information on calories (kilojoules for Australia) on menus. This is intended to help consumers make healthy choices – but does this work?

As well as putting the information on menus or displaying it next to salad bars and buffets, businesses are required to put it in context by letting consumers know the “normal daily intake”.

Research by the US think tank The RAND Corporation notes that providing calorie information on menus could allow consumers to better assess the nutritional value of restaurant foods and thereby improve their decision making. They state that previous research has shown that even trained dietitians seem unable to reliably assess the nutrient content of common restaurant meals.

The RAND researchers designed an online experiment in which participants chose items from the menus of nine different restaurant settings, ranging from fast-food outlets to movie theatres. The calorie labels on those menus followed the requirements described in the USA FDA rule.

The analysis of participants and their choices suggests that, among participants who selected at least one item, displaying calories on menus reduced the energy amount ordered by 30 kilocalories, corresponding to a decrease of 7% across all settings.

Although not statistically significant, the decrease in calories ordered was slightly more for bold labels compared to standard type.

Importantly for businesses, the research found that providing calorie information did not affect participants’ satisfaction with choices they made or their ratings of restaurants.

Health consciousness and factors such as sustainable supply are becoming more important to today’s consumers. Businesses that are involved in supplying food, whether fast food, restaurants or coffee shops need to be aware of these trends.

The RAND research suggests that providing health related information to consumers can assist them to make better choices while not hurting consumer satisfaction. Being seen as “health aware” could even boost consumer opinion of a business.

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