Industry News | September 4, 2008

Frustrated Consumers Look to Government

A new study released by industry research firm Technomic found that New York City consumers hold government, not restaurateurs, responsible for helping them make informed nutritional choices. Overwhelmingly survey participants support the city’s menu-labeling requirements and look to the government to impose mandates on restaurants.

“There’s a growing sense of frustration,” says Technomic’s Executive Vice President Bob Goldin. “Consumers continue to be surprised by fat, calories, and sodium content in restaurant foods and part of that is there is no real readily available information.”

Goldin says offering caloric totals after customers have ordered or via Web sites is not enough. Instead, consumers are looking to make more informed decisions, a trend, he says, will continue to gain strength in light of menu-labeling rulings in New York City and California.

According to the study, 86 percent of the 300 respondents think the city’s menu labeling law requiring chains with 15 or more units to post calorie counts on menus is a positive move.

“[We asked] whether they’re in favor of government playing a more active role in regulating restaurant menus and there were almost three quarters that said they were in favor of it,” he says. “I think they’re looking at the government as a solution versus the restaurants doing it voluntarily.”

Goldin’s advice to restaurants is “to get on the band wagon.” The growing menu labeling trend shows no sign of stopping and Goldin says restaurants will have more control in its effects, the sooner they get involved. “I think it’s always better to do something voluntary and control the agenda than having someone else, a third party or governmental agency, make up the rules,” he says.

Other findings included in the study were motivations for supporting the menu labeling. Of those in favor of the mandate, 70 percent wanted to be more informed, 64 percent said the labeling couldn’t hurt, and 60 percent thought the law would help improve public health.

The strong number of consumers supporting such mandates is part of a larger health trend taking place in the U.S. Even a decade ago, Goldin estimates, consumers did not demand the type of healthy efforts they do today.

“Taking trans fats out of the food supply is a tiny step in the right direction,” Goldin says. “But it really does nothing to talk to combating obesity. It’s still high calorie; it doesn’t make it healthier. There’s a lot of frustration, consumers are saying, ‘Help!’ ”

--Blair Chancey

Add new comment