With obesity, diabetes and other diet-related maladies on the rise in the United States, are healthy choices available when eating out? In an interview study of top executives at major U.S. restaurant chains, researchers found that the message is mixed. Growing sales and increasing profits led the list of factors that drive menu selection, although many respondents also expressed interest in providing low-fat, low calorie foods and fresh fruits and vegetables on their menus. The study, reported in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sought to understand how restaurant chains make decisions about their menus and the challenges surrounding offering healthier options on their menus.
The Healthy Menu Study used in-depth structured interviews with 41 senior menu development and marketing executives at leading casual dining and fast-food restaurant chains to learn about current practices and in particular, barriers to offering more fresh produce. It was initiated by the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), a non-profit educational foundation that aims to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and to foster a healthy food environment. Interviews were conducted by Technomic, an established foodservice research firm with access to executives at major restaurant chains.
The restaurant chains were selected based on industry leadership position, strong growth history or trends, and diverse menu categories. Efforts were made to recruit executives from companies with different sales volumes (<$200M, $200M-$999M and >$1B) and different types of service (Fast Food/Quick Service and Full-Service). The final count of 41 interviewees came from 28 chains and represented 28% of sales from all U.S. chains with over $50 million in annual revenue. Multiple interviews were conducted within some chains to gain a more complete picture when responsibilities, such as menu planning and marketing, were often segmented.