CHICAGO — Consumers believe that having a variety of healthy offerings on restaurant menus is extremely important, but their satisfaction with such offerings is fairly low, a new Technomic study shows.
As part of Nutritrack, a consumer research study on health and nutrition trends, Technomic evaluated consumer satisfaction with the healthful and nutritious offerings at 37 leading restaurant chains and found a fairly low ratio of consumers who were truly satisfied. Those chains getting the highest marks were Subway, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Applebee's.
“This data should serve as a wake-up call for the restaurant industry to accelerate its health and nutrition initiatives,” said Bob Goldin, Technomic's executive vice president.
The same certainly is true for supermarkets that offer prepared foods, one consultant told SN.
“There's a huge opportunity for supermarkets,” said Howard Solganik, president, Culinary Resources, a Dayton, Ohio, consulting firm that works with supermarkets.
“For a long time, I've been urging my clients to use nutritionally controlled recipes and then make the data available to customers. I just don't understand why supermarkets aren't pursuing this,” Solganik said, pointing out that grocers don't train associates to know about or talk about the nutritional values of food sold in the deli.
“I've seen statistics showing 44% of items sold in supermarkets make nutritional claims, yet prepared foods and deli items are almost totally lacking in nutritional claims. They wouldn't have to change a lot of things, but just give customers information,” he said, noting it's incumbent on delis to squelch the age-old perception that equates delis with high fat content.
Other Technomic studies published this month show that flavor and cleanliness are particularly important to restaurant customers.
“Taste/flavor of food and restaurant cleanliness were critical attributes in restaurant selection among both quick-service and casual-dining chains. Consumers also consider accuracy of filling orders and quality of ingredients critical at QSRs, whereas freshness and temperature of food and value for the money are critical at casual-dining restaurants,” one report states.
Another report indicates sales at the more upscale QSRs grew more than at others in the past year.
In fact, that one, “Top 100 Fast Casual Chain Restaurant Report,” indicates that the cluster of upscale chains experienced more than 14% annual growth in 2006, compared with roughly 6% for this country's chain restaurant industry as a whole. Panera continues to dominate in fast casual, with nearly $2 billion in 2006 sales, an almost 20% annual growth over 2005. Other leaders include Panda Express, Chipotle, Boston Market and El Pollo Loco.
The studies offer demographic profiles of the chains' customers and insight into their buying behavior.