Consumers Say One Thing, Eat Something Different

Discussion
Jun 24, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It certainly won’t come as a surprise to anyone connected to the food industry that what consumers say they want and what they actually buy are usually very different.

The latest evidence to this effect is a study by Mintel Menu Insights, which found that 80 percent of consumers say it is important to them to eat healthy, yet the reality of what they eat when they go a restaurant is quite different. Only 51 percent of consumers actually order healthy items off of restaurant menus.

"Most people are really looking for taste, texture and experience," Maria Caranfa, director at Mintel Menu Insights, said in a press release.

Price is also a factor in the decision not to buy foods that might be better for a restaurant patron’s health. Fifty-four percent told Mintel that eating healthy menu items meant higher prices.

Even though consumers may be buying fried foods instead of healthier alternatives, they still want more information on the nutritional value of items on menus.

"Restaurants need to make ‘healthy’ food appeal on flavor, freshness and satiety benefits, not just on calorie and fat information," said Ms. Caranfa. "People seek fresh ingredients and more vegetables in healthy food, both of which can be promoted in a positive way. Healthy dining should be as satisfying as ordering from the regular menu."

Discussion Questions: What is behind the disconnect with what people say they want to eat and what they actually do when going out to a restaurant or shopping in a grocery store? Should companies be stepping away from healthy foods or pushing ahead even if actual purchasing patterns don’t exactly match up with consumers’ nutritional aspirations?

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12 Comments on "Consumers Say One Thing, Eat Something Different"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Consumer behavior in fast-casual restaurants might be different if customers got a clearer picture of the calorie content of some popular menu items. This has gotten news coverage recently, and frankly some of the numbers are appalling.

The truly health-conscious are probably not going to eat often at Chili’s or Applebee’s, anyway. And there’s always a strong argument that the consumer has a right to choose, whether the food is good for you or not. But are these types of restaurants providing enough information for a more educated (and healthier) decision? I don’t think so.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 10 months ago

Taste is a huge problem! Consumers want to eat healthy but they don’t want to give up the taste of not-as-healthy food. Unfortunately, much of the healthy, low-in-calorie but good-for-you food is tasteless or not desirous. This trend will continue to grow and the winner will be the one that finds the right combination of good-for-you and tastes good!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 10 months ago

Research versus Reality: People know that they should eat healthy foods. So they say that’s their preference. But many people also silently desire foods that are tasty and satisfy their pallet because they are zested up with salt, MSG, sugar, butter, white flour and grease by frying.

The virtue which induces the brain to respond healthily does not necessarily lodge itself in the stomach of the Fast Foodie.

Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
Guest
Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
11 years 10 months ago
A disconnect between what people say they intend to do and what they actually do has been with retailing forever. That’s why our consumer surveys must ask about intentions, but also ask about beliefs and feelings, and then derive conclusions based on patterns of answers, not on answers to individual items. But when it comes to eating healthy foods, the disconnect seems to be especially great. We want to look noble to others and to ourselves, so we say we’ll eat healthy and then rationalize the less healthy choices by blaming it on superior flavor. Going out to eat has always had a fantasy feel, where calories don’t count, but going out to eat these days is a special treat, and with all the economic troubles, we say we deserve to indulge. There’s even evidence that having healthy choices on the menu makes us more likely to pick the unhealthy choice. Consumer psychology researchers from City University of New York, Loyola College, and Duke University asked people to choose from a menu that included side… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

This is true for all facets of consumer behavior. Consumers tell a supermarket that they want a wide variety of items in the store. However, they only buy a small percentage of what’s available. This is just one more example of why it is so critical to sift through the noise and get real analytics to work.

Healthy diets are nice to talk about, but reality does show that we, especially in the U.S., are fairly far away from getting into the habit of buying, and then, yes, actually consuming the healthy stuff we bought. What is more difficult to track is how much food goes to waste in the home due to spoilage. If you look at the bagged salad in the fridge for days on end while selecting tastier, less healthy food to eat, the salad goes to waste. Yet, the store is selling the healthy product. So there is at least this disconnect in play, too.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

The disconnect is not only in grocery and restaurants; the disconnect is in almost everything consumers says they want and then what they go out and buy.

Numerous studies have been done asking people what they want and then following up to see their behavior. Usually a major disconnect.

Yes the food industry and retailers need to keep pushing what is correct and best because that will bring people in the door. Those who want a healthy life style will make healthy choices; those who don’t will not feel bad because they had the dessert.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 10 months ago

No surprises on this issue. This kind of disconnect has been around ever since the first supermarket. But I think it’s up to stores and restaurants to keep plugging away on health issues. You want a real reality check? Go into any fast food joint in New York City and take a look at the calorie counts for items that are now mandated by law.

you can’t force people to leave what they love–and sometimes crave. But keep giving them the right information (not some phony rating system) taste and quality for a reasonable price and they will eventually get the message. Hopefully, that item will come before they have their first Big Mac Heart Attack!

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
11 years 10 months ago

Human Nature should be no surprise to anyone.

We want to believe that we agree with the notion of eating healthy, changing our diets and the like. Saying what we mean and meaning what we say are very different when it comes to personal satisfaction.

I personally don’t think that all of the marketing and caloric information will change fundamental human nature. Companies should continue to offer their healthy choices and indicate them as such while at the same time offering the consumer the choice of smaller portions of the “good stuff” that isn’t so healthy (example – Lasagna offered in regular and 1/2 portion sizes with a icon indicating a healthy choice of reduced calories). Maybe crazy…maybe not.

After all, it’s all about balance and isn’t so much about what one eats, rather it’s about how much of it we consume.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 10 months ago
Take it from a market researcher. What people say in market research studies and what they actually do are two different things. There’s also a cultural response bias. Different cultures are more apt to want to impress the interviewer or say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Our research–which often combines quantitative surveys and focus groups with in-home or in-restaurant observational techniques–shows that people really do want to eat healthy. When it comes time to buy or order, however, they go with their gut, as opposed to their head. There’s a key finding here. Aspirationally, people want to eat healthy. And that spells opportunity for marketers, retailers, and restaurateurs because people want to think that what they are eating is healthy. Emphasize a product’s health benefits–few foods except candy or soft drinks are entirely bad for you. Develop and sell products that add some kind of health benefit without sacrificing on taste and the desire to be decadent now and then. Give them a nod that you appreciate their desire to stay healthy.… Read more »
Phillip T. Straniero
Guest
Phillip T. Straniero
11 years 10 months ago

I, like many, want to eat healthy but I am unwilling/unable to give up taste! Enough said….

Steven Johnson
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Times they are a changing or so they say! Yes, with new choices will come new opportunity! The Grocerant sector will benefit the most.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Eating healthy is analogous to sustainability. People want products that are green, but they buy what they like.

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