January 28, 2010
The calorie disclosure effect
As we said in our trends forecast, while the behavioral effect as of yet is unclear, calorie disclosure is one reason we’ll be seeing smaller serving sizes, more lighter-fare options and simple substitutions that lower calorie counts. Just this month, Taco Bell launched its controversial Diet Drive Thru Menu (seven lower-fat items under 200 calories), Applebee’s introduced a menu featuring five entrees under 550 calories and Starbucks added four hot panini options under 400 calories. A Taco Bell exec told USA Today that in a test of the Diet Drive Thru Menu in two markets last year, “repeat purchases … were the highest of any product the chain’s sold in 20 years.”
Clearly a significant portion of consumers are calorie-conscious and there’s data to prove it. A recent Stanford business school study found that Starbucks customers in New York, Boston and Philadelphia bought 6 percent fewer calories per visit once the cafes started posting calorie info. In the same vein, a study just published in Pediatrics found that parents veer toward lower-calorie options for young children when fast-food menus show calorie counts.
However, there may be some room for skepticism since earlier research focusing on fast food outlets in low-income New York City neighborhoods found that people hadn’t altered their eating habits. As disclosure ramps up, it will be interesting to see if a response becomes more universal.