Americans Give Lip Service to Eating Better

Discussion
May 16, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

What Americans say about how they would like to eat and what actually passes their lips on its way to their stomachs are two entirely different things, especially when eating
out, according to a new research study and anecdotal accounts from just about anyone with sight.

Research from the NPD Group found that, depending on gender, hamburgers and French fries were either the first or second most often ordered items from restaurants last year.
Both sexes had pizza as their third choice.

Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD, told USA Today, “Americans have always had the means to eat healthier, but they do not have the will.”

That may help explain why fried chicken was the fastest-growing food category in restaurants last year.

George Hemingway, engagement manager at the consulting firm of Vivaldi Partners, said, “There’s lots of money to be made providing delicious food that’s not good for you. Americans
like to go out and eat good food. Generally speaking, good food is bad for you.”

If any one person has become public enemy number one for the nutrition police it is Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Enterprises, owner of Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s
restaurants.

Under his leadership, the chains have introduced a number of items such as the Monster Thickburger that are loaded with calories, fat and, based on recent sales numbers, the
kind of taste that many consumers are looking for.

“If I’m being blamed for giving consumers yummy, delicious stuff, I’ll take the blame,” he said.

“These products sell better than health-conscious products. We don’t tell consumers what they want. They tell us.”

So, what about all the calls being made for restaurants to add more healthful items to their menus? Is there really a demand?

Many consumers are looking to eat more nutritionally balanced diets, say experts, but as Ron Paul president of Technomic explains it, “Healthy eating isn’t a trend. It’s a slow
creep. Most people would rather take a pill than change eating habits.”

Moderator’s Comment: Why do so many people talk about eating better but so few do it? What lessons are there to be learned here by retailers and other
businesses marketing to consumers? How do marketers, before embarking on a strategic change of course, distinguish between what consumers say they want and what they will actually
buy?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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17 Comments on "Americans Give Lip Service to Eating Better"


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Steve Weiss
Guest
Steve Weiss
15 years 9 months ago

Why do people say one thing and do another? Human nature?

Mellanie True Hills
Guest
Mellanie True Hills
15 years 9 months ago
I agree with the comment by Harry Balzer of NPD that Americans do not have the will to eat healthier. We all know what’s good for us, but we think that we can get by with eating what we want without consequences. And then it happens–something life-threatening. Though many of us make changes afterwards, many do not, or at least don’t stick with them. That must change–we, as a society, will not be able to afford the medical care and the economic consequences of our lack of willpower. I used to eat healthfully–lots of fruits and vegetables, and no fried foods, though I did have a weakness for dairy. Then it happened–I barely escaped a heart attack, and almost died in heart surgery. I didn’t have the traditional risk factors–I was simply overweight and overstressed, which weren’t considered risk factors then. I was also fairly young at the time, but it’s happening to us at younger and younger ages. Afterwards, I had to go on a low-fat diet. (The good news is that I’ve lost… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
Hmmm, as a RW colleague frequently says. Let’s think about that one. Which of the following admonitions and advertising slogans have you been seeing, in one form or another, since your childhood? Eat up, there are children starving in Europe (or Africa, as the case may be). Buy now, pay later. You deserve it. How many mothers, of all ethnicities, feel that it is proof of their devotion to make sure plates are well filled and then well cleaned? How far can you walk/drive from your home to the nearest fast food restaurant or from one to the next? How far is the nearest fast food restaurant from the supermarket where you shop? Or the movie theatre or bowling alley or anywhere else you go for recreation and relaxation? How many times have you been encouraged to eat prepared food, whether served at home or in a restaurant of some sort, because you’re such a busy busy person and cooking shouldn’t be allowed to take up a disproportionate amount of your valuable time? None of… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
15 years 9 months ago

Human nature is full of paradoxes…what we want and what we do are often in conflict. That’s why the Gladwell’s of the world are cautioning marketers against using focus groups as the holy grail. Asking people what they want is a recipe for creating something that they ultimately may not use. Immersion, ethnographies, gut and a whole host of other consumer insight work has to replace our tendency to want to moderate and report on the human condition.

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
15 years 9 months ago
I think NPD Group’s Harry Blazer’s comment, “Americans have always had the means to eat healthier, but they do not have the will” sums it up pretty well. American culture has a long history of facilitating everything for consumers (and this is one of the great successes of its economic and cultural power) so when it comes to changing a habit like eating in which Americans take great pleasure, they expect it to be easy and painless to make it worthwhile, or someone to facilitate it by creating some magical solution. Solving the problem of obesity and malnutrition has to become a very important part of the government’s agenda and, if it’s addressed smartly, will take decades before we see some consistent results. Unfortunately, in the meantime, established food companies (manufacturers and retailers) will keep trying to find that “magical” solution that will probably not contribute to a healthier lifestyle but that solves, at least on the surface, Americans’ concerns of losing weight and, of course, those companies’ bottom lines. Sadly, it is not in… Read more »
Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
15 years 9 months ago

I have two comments about this.

The first is that it should not be surprising that people who grow up in a culture where billions are spent every year trying to identify and satisfy their desires would have a difficult time with denial.

The second is that Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Smokey Bones, and Bahama Breeze) has launched a new concept called Seasons 52. The whole point of this restaurant is that it is a wonderful dining experience that also happens to be healthy. The food, service and atmosphere in a Season 52 stand-alone. The added benefit of healthy food is making this a very successful concept. Once again, it shows that if you give people what they want they will buy it.

Richard Alleger
Guest
Richard Alleger
15 years 9 months ago
When people eat out, it is a luxury. Luxuries don’t always do good, but they sure always feel good. The time to help people balance eating well while eating to enjoy food is when they are young. If we give soda (nutritionally worthless and possibly harmful) and fats and fries etc to kids when they are young, they’ll eat them when they are older…unless they have an epiphany…or a heart attack, or varicose veins etc, etc. Fast food restaurants and servers of nutritionally unsound but tasteful food cannot be held accountable for problems people face when knowing they should avoid those foods but don’t, no more than a liquor store or bar be held accountable when a person falls off the wagon. However, anyone truly interested in the health and welfare of children owes it to them to teach tasteful, healthful eating habits. Parents, educators and supermarketers all have a terrific opportunity to do this…to do good while doing well. Ignorance, addiction (to fatty foods, sweet foods etc) and ease of access make helping kids… Read more »
Steve Weiss
Guest
Steve Weiss
15 years 9 months ago

I mean no offense by this, but the comment that Seasons 52 is “a very successful restaurant” is indicative of the sort of disinformation that gets accepted as fact in the nutritional debate. Darden has over 1300 restaurants, a grand total of three of which are Seasons 52 units. This concept makes a great public relations vehicle for Darden (SO interested in seasonality and nutrition) but it does not reflect the business direction of the chain nor the nutritional reality of American dining. Believe me, if the concept wasn’t positioned as “grill AND WINE BAR,” there would be fewer than three of them.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 9 months ago

In many cases, healthy food provides no comfort. We live in a very wealthy society. We are bored, and use food, sports, etc. as equal value entertainment. We won’t support a losing team and we won’t support food that provides no immediate reward. This isn’t rocket science but could we get a few rocket scientists to develop a good tasting brown gravy mix that is high in omega 3, vitamins C & D, etc.?

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 9 months ago
People have never lived the way they claim to, and they never will. However, they want to believe that they will do what they know is “right.” Consequently, people often go places where they can order “good” things and then mix and match: I’ll have a salad before the burger and fries, and that will be good. Retailers who only serve “bad” food will always do well with certain members of the population, but the more mainstream places need to serve both so people can believe they might make the better choice. However, I believe labeling foods “bad” and “good” contributes to the disconnect between what people say and what they do. Healthy eating is a combination of all of our choices, not just the ones we make when we’re standing in McDonald’s. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be an obese nation if we didn’t make fattening choices reasonably often. restaurants and supers who offer healthy choices in addition to more fattening ones will do better because people can pretend they will make the wiser… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

…sure Jerry — and here in the States we only read Playboy for the articles.

Last week, we discussed new product development and some of the old, hard-learned axioms slipped out into my commentary. This thread brought back yet another — “People talk with their mouths and vote with their wallets.”

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

I read an interesting study recently that reveals how an alarming percentage of people do not change their eating habits one whit even after experiencing life-threatening consequences (heart attacks, stroke, etc). Speaking of pills, people also stop taking their heart medication in droves after a short period of time (what happened to Bill Clinton by the way). So much for the ease of pill-taking. This is because folks need to see and, more importantly, feel instant results or they don’t stick with new habits, and if they don’t embrace the new habits wholeheartedly, they don’t change their set point. Eating a salad instead of a burger for a week just isn’t going to give you thrilling results. I have to believe that the healthier options at fast food chains are not being sold as alternatives, but rather to those who would buy them anyway, somewhere else. In the meantime, they offer psychological solace for the rest!

Jerry Tutunjian
Guest
Jerry Tutunjian
15 years 9 months ago

There’s nothing surprising — unfortunately — about the yawning gap between what people say and what people do. Up here in Canada, we had a similar recent discovery: People consume much less vegetables and fruits than they claim that they do. It’s the old story about everybody watching documentaries only on TV.

But it would be mistake to be discouraged or to walk away from these dispiriting study results. The industry should continue its campaigns to encourage people to consume healthier food.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

It’s the “wanna be” syndrome at work. People want to be this ideal, but they can’t do it. So their responses reflect what they wish, not reality. Thirty years ago, when I was covering the shoe industry, everyone was suddenly buying top-of-the-line jogging sneakers. Most of them weren’t jogging, but in surveys, they insisted that they were. One national survey, circa 1978, said that 60% of Americans (!) were jogging every day. Right. But jogging was cool, so jogging sneaks became a fashion statement and little more. I’d say that there are more active joggers today than there were then, but it’s a slow, incremental haul. Same with the food biz. My money would be on the “comfort food” and “junk food” types to continue growing quickly. Of course if you can make that stuff so it is also “natural” (whatever that means) or organic, you have a huge winner. As always, though, it’ll be about taste, and what’s in vogue.

Doug Fleener
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
I can tell you why I eat poorly even when I want to do better, and it comes from one of the truths of the world — fat tastes good. Greg Brenneman, chairman and CEO of Burger King, was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying it wasn’t his job to tell Americans what they should eat. While he offers consumers a healthy, low-calorie, low-fat meal, the customer wants tasty fatty food. What was funny was how he said that they are the only fast-food restaurant to offer a veggie burger. They sell three veggie burgers a day per restaurant and over 300 Whoppers per day per restaurant. Guess the customer wants it their way and it isn’t healthy food. Businesses need to not only hear what the customer says but also what they really mean. So often customers will say a product or company is expensive. What the company or the employee hears is that it is overpriced. What the customer may be saying is that it is out of price range… Read more »
Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 9 months ago

It was interesting as the comments came to the end and the thought of being able to take a pill to make everything better was raised… it was exactly what I was thinking (hoping for). I think when the government cannot decide from year to year what the food pyramid should look like, it is hard to hold hard and fast to what is “good” for you. The consumer really needs to be asked the question, but allow their pocketbook be the answer. We all want to work out every day, do something good, but unless actions are seen, then you need to take it with a grain of salt. Retailers are going to need to continue with boutique departments and offerings based on feedback, but have the energy to switch off or expand as they evaluate actual sales and usage.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
15 years 9 months ago
Food is not just food…and marketers who understand this create buzz. There are meal occasions. The constant barrage of the press regarding the “bad Americans with their bad eating habits” amaze me. Americans make choices and the choices constantly vary and always have. Many people make a distinction between eating “in” and eating “out.” I admit to having two standards and I don’t think I am alone. Eating “out” connotes the unusual. For some, it is a treat; for others it’s a social occasion; for others, a quick refueling. All of these provide a cultural freedom from our “real eating habits.” Therefore, those who say they are trying to eat more healthful foods more than likely are at home. And those who have health-related restrictions on their diets are, for the most part, accommodated in restaurants. I don’t expect to or want to have restaurants serve as the food police. I want fresh, quality food prepared to facilitate a fun and yummy meal. Calories and fat are not what I think about when eating “out”;… Read more »
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