MAD Greens will not technically be affected by the upcoming national mandate requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more units to post calorie counts on their menuboards; the Denver-based salad-and-panini concept has 10 units to date. But the company’s leadership recently decided to add calorie counts anyway—and to go a step further by adding sodium, fat, carbohydrate, and protein counts, too.
Marley Hodgson, CEO and cofounder of MAD Greens, says posting nutritional information on the restaurant’s menuboard reflects its mission to be both transparent to the consumer and a healthier food alternative.
“Those two things combined have always led us to be upfront and allow people to make choices,” Hodgson says. “Part of making choices is not just, ‘I want that to taste good,’ but also, ‘What’s good for me? What are my needs for my diet and can I craft a meal to match that?’”
The company added all nutritional information to printed menus and an online nutrition calculator, as well. The nutrition calculator, while keeping tabs on what’s in chef-created menu items like the stores’ menuboard does, also racks up the counts in customer-designed items.
Lucas Clarke, marketing director for MAD Greens, says that though recent regulations like the mandate included in last year’s health care reform focus mostly on calories, the company wanted customers to know all of the details of what was in their food.
“It gives you a fuller picture of what you’re eating, not just a calorie number,” he says. “A lot of people seem to fixate on the calorie number, but there’s a lot that goes into that.”
As a healthy-eating concept, Hodgson says, MAD Greens has much less to fear in presenting its nutritional information than other companies do. He says regulations requiring companies to be honest about their calorie counts will be a great step toward solving what he says is a “major epidemic” in the U.S.—obesity.
“If [restaurants are] so afraid of showing the customers what they’re serving, then there’s that underlying question of, ‘Should you really be serving it?’” he says.
Adding nutritional information to the menuboard—which Clarke says the company designed with the help of focus groups, Facebook fans, and restaurant staff over the course of several months—has even made MAD Greens tweak its R&D efforts, Hodgson says.
“When we’ll talk about a new menu item, now, at the forefront of that conversation is what the nutritionals are going to be, and what we want them to be,” he says. “It forces the conversation a lot more, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Neither Clarke nor Hodgson believe the customer desire to know more about their food is just a trend, and agree that the food transparency movement will continue to play a bigger role in MAD Greens’ future.
“People are paying attention to what they’re putting in their bodies,” Clarke says. “When you look at concepts like McDonald’s, where they’re rolling out oatmeal and apples and dried fruit … that’s stuff that 15 years ago McDonald’s would have laughed at.”
By Sam Oches