February 15, 2007

Can you find healthy, good value food at chain restaurants?

In marketing fast-food restaurants, it's assumed that diners will associate larger portions with "value".

Michael Pollan tells the story in Omnivore's Dilemma, that David Wallerstein convinced Ray Kroc in 1968 to "supersize" portions, because Wallerstein knew most people don't want to be perceived as "piggish". Wallerstein demonstrated that the taboo against gluttony could be broken with larger portions for just a little more money. Kroc thought that if people wanted more, they just would order a second bag of fries. Kroc was wrong, and Wallerstein's dubious achievement, SuperSize, was born.

But could the tide be turning against SuperSize? Maybe the tide has turned into a tsunami!

A survey just released Monday found people don't believe chain restaurants give them value or healthy foods. Sandelman & Associates, a San Clemente, Calif.-based market research firm, looked at what people thought about 115 US-based chain restaurants.

On average only 30% of the surveyed diners thought they got value for their money at the chains. And only 23% of the people agree that the restaurants had healthy or nutritious food.

And people want healthy food for their money. Fully 43 percent of customers rated “availability of healthy/nutritious food” “extremely important” in their selection of a fast-food restaurant in 2006, up from 35 percent in 2001. In fact, it is the only attribute of 12 studied that posted increases for five consecutive years.

And 56% think it's extremely important to get value for the money.

Americans are trying to eat better; restaurants don't seem to be responding.

(Read the quarterly syndicated Quick-Track® research report here.)

Respondents provide an rating for selected chains they have patronized in the past three months on 12 key attributes that define a chain’s image, including food, service, cleanliness, convenience and value. A five-point rating scale is used, with “1” being “poor” and “5” being “excellent.”

Here are the percentages people responded as excellent for the restaurants in two categories.

Healthy/Nutritious Food
Importance 43.0%
Subway 54.9%
Submarina 50.8%
Panera/St. Louis Bread 47.9%

Value for the Money
Importance 56.0%
Chico's Tacos 64.4%
Little Caesars Pizza 58.3%
In-N-Out Burger 49.1%

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