Industry News | February 22, 2011

Consumers Want to Know More About What's in Their Food

Seventy percent of U.S. diners say they want more information about the sourcing and nutritional value of their meals when dining out, with nearly two-thirds (64 percent) agreeing they would choose healthier meals if more information was provided, according to Unilever Food Solutions' new World Menu Report, "What's in Your Food?"

The global report surveyed 3,500 diners in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, China, Russia, Brazil, and Turkey who eat out at least once a week. The survey was conducted to measure consumers' attitudes and behaviors toward eating out.

Although an overwhelming majority of U.S. respondents said they want greater transparency about ingredient sourcing and production, preparation details, and nutritional content, 83 percent said that information is not currently offered when dining out. However, the report also showed the demand for more information was less pronounced among U.S. diners than their counterparts in nonwestern and developing nations, where 90 percent or more of respondents said they wanted greater transparency about meal content.

"Globally, consumers' attitudes toward healthy eating are evolving and their desire for delicious food when dining out is constant," says Lisa Carlson, MS, RD, development nutritionist, R&D, Unilever Food Solutions North America. "Consumers want food that tastes good, but they also want food that is good for them. Because of this, today's chefs have a tremendous opportunity to help consumers eat better by providing healthy, great-tasting menu options, as well as increasing transparency about meal content so that consumers can make informed decisions."

The first topic of the World Menu Report focused on health and nutrition, an important global issue that Unilever Food Solutions is dedicated to addressing through its enhanced service offerings, particularly its "Your Menu" service. Through this service area, Unilever Food Solutions works with restaurants and operators to help them keep their menus fresh and exciting so they can offer diners dishes that are delicious, healthy, and nutritious.

"The choices we make are shaped by the choices we have," says Mary Donkersloot, RD, nutritionist and restaurant consultant. "We need to provide more transparency—but without taking away from the pleasure of dining out. If we can satisfy the needs of our guests as an industry, it will inevitably help people make better choices."

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of U.S. respondents said that food labels, including low fat and calorie content, would be a welcome addition to their menu when dining out. This is slightly less than in nonwestern countries and developing nations where more than 75 percent of respondents said that they would like this type of information added to their menus.

Across all surveyed countries, fat, calories, preservatives, and food additives topped respondents' lists of the nutrients and ingredients they are most interested in knowing more about when dining out. In the U.S. and United Kingdom, sodium is also seen as an important topic for information, while in China respondents would like to know more about the vitamins and proteins in their meals.

Additionally, nearly all respondents surveyed globally said that restaurants should take the lead in ensuring more transparency regarding the content of meals.

"The World Menu Report has highlighted a clear call to action for those of us within the food service industry—we need to not only provide consumers with delicious food but also the information they want and need about their meal content," says Steven Jilleba, CMC executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions North America.

Unilever Food Solutions is helping facilitate transparency by providing ingredient and nutritional information for all of its products and working closely with chefs and operators to create healthy and tasty meal options.

The company will release findings from the second issue of the World Menu Report, focused on sustainability, later this year.