CHICAGO -- Despite increased buzz about healthy dining and restaurant nutrition labeling, new findings from Mintel Menu Insights suggest healthy menu items still face a tough battle for acceptance.
Surveying American diners, Mintel found that only 20 percent rank food health as an important factor when ordering dinner. Far more essential are taste and hunger satisfaction, selected by 77 percent and 44 percent of respondents, respectively. And although over three-quarters of adults claim they'd like to see more healthy items on the menu, barely half (51 percent) say they usually order them.
"There's definitely a dichotomy between what people say they want and what they actually do when it comes to healthy restaurant eating," said director of Mintel Menu Insights Maria Caranfa, a registered dietician. "Over eight in 10 adults told us it's very or somewhat important to them to eat healthy, but when it comes to dining out, most people are really looking for taste, texture and experience. So, healthy menu items need to perfect the balance between nutrition and flavor."
Price remains a deterrent to healthy restaurant fare, especially as the economy weighs down people's finances. Fifty-four percent Mintel's survey respondents say eating healthy at restaurants is more expensive than not eating healthy. Caranfa agrees that "when it comes to healthy menu items, the prices are often higher and less promoted."
Additionally, Mintel found that during Q1 2009, only 5 percent of new items carried a nutritional claim. But nearly one in five new food items was fried.
Despite obstacles faced by the healthy food menu, pressure exists for restaurants to add more wholesome options. The government is trying to increase nutrition labeling on menus, and Mintel's survey shows over three-quarters of diners want more menu transparency on food health.