Survey Digs into Food and Health Views

Survey Digs into Food and Health Views What your guests want from their food and dining experience is always evolving, and now more than ever, guests are looking for more nutritious choices to help them meet their health goals.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation recently released its 2017 Food & Health Survey, “A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values.”  According to this survey, consumers are continuing to turn their attention towards food, specific components of meals and how everything affects their lifestyle. It is the 12th edition of the survey that delves into the beliefs and behaviors of Americans with respect to food and health. The online survey of 1,002 Americans ages 18 to 80 took place March 10 to March 29, 2017, and covers a variety of topics.  These highlights provide deeper insight into what guests may be expecting from restaurants now and in the coming years.

What is Healthy?
It’s no secret that many consumers have goals to be healthy, but what does that mean?  According to the survey, “healthy” was mostly considered a lack of or few health problems, but 1 in 5 survey participants defined it as eating healthy.  Eating healthy was specified as:

  • High in healthy components or nutrients
  • Free from artificial ingredients, preservatives or additives,
  • Part of an important food group that I need to build a healthy eating style
Many restaurants are already tapping into this demand with menu choices that incorporate more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.  Popular chains are also making a move to do away with artificial ingredients, preservatives and additives in their dishes to meet guest expectations.

It doesn’t stop there, though.  The most recent Food & Health Survey uncovered the specific components that many consumers are seeking to boost in their diets, including vitamin D, fiber, whole grains, protein from plant sources, omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, and unsaturated fats. In many cases, interest in these components had jumped significantly over last year’s survey results.  

Why Eat Healthy?
A growing number of consumers are now viewing food choices as an essential tool to meet their health goals.  With a focus on following a healthy eating style (nearly six in 10 said getting the right mix of different foods is important), survey participants listed these as the “Most Desired Health Benefits from Food”:
  • Weight loss/management (one in three specified this benefit)
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Energy
  • Digestive health
If the survey is any indication, Americans are also taking action to meet their healthy eating goals.  It is here where restaurants have the biggest opportunity to deliver on expectations.  Even small changes to recipes, additional side options and right-sized menu choices can help you demonstrate your commitment to helping guests meet their goals without sacrificing eating out.

In the past year, participants shared that they had taken the following steps:
  1. Drunk more water or other fluids to stay hydrated
  2. Made small changes to achieve an overall healthier diet
  3. Eaten more fruits and vegetables
  4. Consumed smaller portions
  5. Eaten more foods with whole grains
  6. Cut calories by drinking low- and no-calorie beverages
  7. Balanced calories to manage my weight
  8. Cut back on foods higher in saturated fat
  9. Cut back on foods higher in salt
  10. Compared sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals
In addition, 58% of the survey participants shared that they sometimes used nutrition information to decide what to have when eating out, an increase from last year.  Plus, 91% of those who regularly use nutrition info to decide where to eat out say they are trying to avoid or limit sugars.  It’s not just about sodium, calories and fat anymore.  Sugar continues to grow as an ingredient of concern!

Confusion over Healthy Eating
One theme that came through loud and clear in the 2017 Food & Health Survey is that confusion over healthy eating abounds. While consumers have definite ideas about what they should be eating, the abundance of information, often conflicting, leaves people confused.  The survey found that 8 in 10 find conflicting advice about what to eat or avoid leaving many doubting their food choices.  Many struggle to understand which foods offer which specific benefits.

Further adding to the confusion is the fact that despite overwhelming trust in the advice of dietitians and health professionals, a large number of participants regularly relied upon information from friends and family.

The Restaurant Opportunity
The average American eats out five times per week.  Restaurants can help their guests feel good about eating out by offering the choices they want to support their health goals.  Providing more healthful options, the ability to personalize meals, accurate nutrition information and more can help build a loyal following and allow restaurants to grow even with evolving expectations.

How is your restaurant tapping into these food and health trends to connect with guests and improve the bottom line?