Health | May 2013 | By Emily Freeman

Slimmer Items, Hefty Sales

Study shows lower-calorie menu items drive traffic, sales.

The lower the calorie counts in restaurant menu items, the better for business, according to recent research by public policy research organization Hudson Institute.

The report analyzed 21 of the nation’s largest restaurant chains, including quick-service brands like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. It found that restaurants with more low-calorie servings had better sales growth, larger increases in customer traffic, and stronger gains in total food and beverage servings than chains that offered fewer low-calorie options.

More specifically, chains selling low-calorie servings saw a 5.5 percent increase in same-store sales, along with a 10.9 percent growth in customer traffic.

Gary Stibel, founder and CEO of The New England Consulting Group, says limited-service brands are adding low-calorie items to “eliminate the veto with parties of more than one.”

“Rarely do people go out to eat alone,” he says. “So the addition of healthy options eliminates the veto when deciding where the group should eat.”

The study also found that burger sales have seen a decline, says Hank Cardello, senior fellow and director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at Hudson Institute.

Despite these findings, Stibel says, consumers’ desire for more standard fast-food fare isn’t going away. “Americans like to indulge when they are out to eat,” he says, “and that has not stopped.”