Ever wonder why your favorite fast-food restaurant doesn't offer healthy menu options?
The decision to put healthy alternatives like salads and veggies on the menu is heavily influenced by restaurateurs' concerns for healthy profits, says Emory University public health researcher Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, and colleagues, writing in the forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The article, "How Major Restaurant Chains Plan Their Menus: The Role of Profit, Demand and Health," will be published in May and confirms what many have speculated to be the motivation behind restaurant chains' menu selections - growing sales and increased profits.
Researchers interviewed 41 senior menu development and marketing executives at leading U.S. casual dining and fast-food restaurant chains. The results: Growing sales and increasing profits are the most important considerations (61 percent) when determining menu options. Only 21 percent of executives said health and nutrition were important.
Some executives expressed interest in providing low-fat, low-calorie foods and fresh fruits and vegetables on their menus. But the majority of chains interviewed said they would not add new items to their menus unless they are confident that their customer base will accept them and that the items will contribute to sales and profit growth. Limited service chains (fast food) also indicated that their consumers wanted menu changes more often than did full-service restaurant respondents.
"Many companies are reluctant to increase healthy food choices on menus due to perceptions of low consumer demand, inconsistent quality and availability of produce, high spoilage, increased storage needs and complexity of preparation," says Dr. Glanz, who led the study's Research Advisory Committee, which also included scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other universities.
"Underlying all of these is a general belief that such products have not generated profits for their business and their competitors," she adds.
The restaurant chains were selected based on industry leadership position, diverse menu categories and strong growth history or trends. Efforts were made to recruit executives from companies with varying sales volumes and different types of service (fast food/quick service and full-service). The study respondents came from 28 chains and represented 28 percent of sales from all U.S. restaurant chains with more than $50 million in annual revenue.
The research was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH).
Dr. Glanz is available to offer additional insight on the study's findings. To schedule an interview, please call 404-727-5692.