Friday, July 27, 2012 by Lee Mannering
Study of menu labeling finds some improvements but more work to be done
Just prior to last week’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition, I read an abstract of a menu labeling study available in the August issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the study, researchers examined menu labeling’s effect on improving the nutritional content of foods in King County, Washington. King County was one of the first jurisdictions to implement menu labeling in January 2009.
Investigators audited menus at 11 sit-down restaurants and 26 quick-serve chains. They evaluated the nutritional levels of entrées that were on the menu six months after the regulations went into effect and remained on the menu 12 months later, to determine whether individual menu items had been reformulated to improve their nutritional profiles. They also looked at whether all entrées had a better nutrition profile.
While there was evidence of product reformulation and more healthful alternative availability among entrees, the study found that the majority of entrées were still very high in energy, saturated fats, and sodium when compared to the daily intakes as recommended by the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Last year’s PMA Identifying Consumer Trends in the Produce Category study found that the majority of consumers are looking at specific labels within a restaurant’s menu though about four out of ten consumers are not interested in labels at restaurants. Thirty-six percent told us they seek calorie labeling on restaurant menus, 31 percent said they look for nutritional value labeling, and 28 percent said fat content labeling. About half of all consumers (48 percent) said would be more likely choose an item that included fruits or vegetables, and another 46 percent mentioned that it makes no difference to their item selection. Not surprisingly, flexitarians are more likely to choose an item containing produce.