Consumers' first line of defense in healthy consumption when they eat out is cutting an item out or cutting down on an order, which is not the best news for foodservice operators, reports The NPD Group. Instead of selecting a healthier menu item, consumers say they are more apt to cut out desserts, have water instead of revenue-generating beverages, or get a smaller portion when seeking a healthier meal from a restaurant, according to a soon-to-be-released NPD foodservice market research report.

In addition to cutting down or out, consumers are looking for healthier choices in protein, preparation, or fit with their diet, according to the NPD study, Healthy at Foodservice–Consumer Expectations Put in, Perspective. The report, which examines key order drivers, phrases consumers associate with healthy eating, and target markets for healthy eating away-from-home, also finds that consumers order healthier preparations for foods ordered, including ordering smaller portions.

Consumers reported that if they are seeking something healthier from a restaurant, they will choose:

  • Salad as a meal, 39 percent;
  • Not to order dessert/sweets, 38 percent;
  • Ordering no beverage or just water, 37 percent;
  • Pick a healthier protein or meat, 28 percent;
  • A smaller portion, 23 percent;
  • No appetizer, 22 percent;
  • Not to eat the whole meal, 19 percent;
  • Items that are prepared in a healthier way, 17 percent;
  • No dressing, sauce, gravy or have them on the side, 16 percent;
  • A light or diet version, 15 percent;
  • Items that fit their diet, 13 percent;
  • To share an entrée, 12 percent;
  • Soup as a meal, 11 percent;
  • An appetizer in lieu of an entrée, 10 percent; and
  • No side item, 10 percent.

NPD reports that while more than 50 percent of adults say they eat healthful meals always or most of the time at home, only 25 percent say they eat healthy foods when they go out to eat. The variance in part reflects differences in consumers' priorities, which change depending on where they eat. According to the NPD study, of those consumers not ordering healthy when they dine out, 37 percent said that when they go out to eat, "I want to eat what I want to eat," and 23 percent said that "I want to indulge when I go out to eat."

"The bottom line is that even with an increasing number of restaurants offering healthier menu items or posting calories and other nutritional information, at the end of the day, consumers see dining out as a treat, an indulgence," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "Operators and foodservice operators are in a challenging position trying to balance meeting their customers' wants and needs, like any successful marketer should do, and meeting societal responsibilities. A first step is understanding 'healthy' from the consumers' perspective."

Read more about trends and statistics.

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