Unilever Food Solutions’ latest World Menu Report titled “Seductive Nutrition” finds that U.S. restaurant guests want the choice of eating healthier when dining out, but those good intentions do not always translate into action.
While 52 percent of U.S. diners surveyed said they frequently look for healthy menu options when eating out, 70 percent prefer to treat themselves when they place their order. Nearly 40 percent of diners say the healthy option sounds less tasty or may not be as filling.
To help diners overcome these barriers and change perceptions, Unilever Food Solutions is recommending a simple solution for restaurant chefs and operators called “Seductive Nutrition.”
“Seductive Nutrition” is a new approach to menu development that nudgesguests to choose a slightly healthier option when eating out. It includes a “Seductive Nutrition” tool that takes a before-and-after look at ten top menu items updated with small changes to improve their nutrition profile, reduce calories, and enhance their menu descriptions.
The good news for the industry is that this approach can help make operators’ businesses healthier too. “Seductive Nutrition” and the report’s focus on health and nutrition highlights one of the fundamental initiatives that Unilever Food Solutions is dedicated to addressing through its enhanced consultation services. Through its “Your Menu” service area, Unilever Food Solutions provides tools to chefs and operators to help create nutritious, healthy, and profitable menus.
“If diners are looking for more healthy food, it’s our duty to make healthy options available, but we also still want guests to be satisfied with filling, tasty dishes,” says Steve Jilleba, CMC, Unilever Food Solutions’ corporate executive chef.
“‘Seductive Nutrition’ is about balancing the health and appeal of your menus. For example, by using ingredients like leaner cuts of meat and more aromatic spices to flavor instead of lots of salt, chefs can make dishes that are appealing and taste delicious while being a little bit healthier.”
Restaurant guests are not looking for dishes to be completely revamped or restaurant menus to be overhauled. More than two-thirds of diners would prefer to have just “slightly healthier” menu options to help them make their eating decisions. The survey also found that updated menu descriptions could help entice diners to select the healthier dishes on the menu.
As a part of the survey, diners were provided with a healthy dish described on two menus – the first “neutral” and the second more “seductive.” In 90 percent of the countries surveyed, diners were more inclined to choose the dish from the menu that included descriptor words, such as “steamed,” “succulent,” and “fresh.”
“Insights from this study show that the small changes to top menu items can make a big difference,” says Lisa Carlson, M.S., R.D., nutrition manager, Unilever Food Solutions North America. “In essence, these small updates serve as a powerful way to help guests choose a healthier option. They can have an enormous impact on the health of diners across the U.S.”
The global report, commissioned by Unilever Food Solutions, surveyed 5,000 diners in the United States, United Kingdom, China, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, South Africa, and Indonesia to measure consumers’ attitudes on the challenges they face in making healthier meal choices when eating out-of-home.
James Andrade, who holds a master’s degree in psychopharmacology and a Ph.D. in neuroscience, has just faced one of his biggest career challenges: coming up with a mango-and-orange flavored Oreo cookie. “People in this part of the world have strong feelings about what a mango tastes like,” explains Andrade, vice president of research and development in the Asia Pacific region for Kraft Foods (KFT). “You can have many variations on vanilla, but people are quite discriminating with mango.”
Whether it’s green tea Oreos in China, a chocolate and peanut variety in Indonesia, or banana and dulce de leche Oreos in Argentina, a lot rides on Kraft’s efforts to develop alternatives to the iconic cookie-and-cream combination. The 100-year-old sandwich cookie, a $2 billion brand, is going global in a big way. Emerging markets will account for about half of Oreo sales this year, and over the past five years emerging markets including Asia and Latin America have been the major drivers of the brand’s growth. Thanks to the overseas push, overall Oreo sales grew nearly 25 percent in 2011.
Kraft has tailored the cookie’s marketing to better resonate among local consumers. In one Chinese commercial, a child gives a lesson in dunking (cookies, not basketballs) to former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming. In a South Korean ad, a baby clutches an Oreo while nursing at its mother’s breast. Kraft says that spot was made by its ad agency only for an awards program. But since its leak online, it’s gone viral.
Success outside mature developed markets is important for Kraft as it prepares for a spinoff of its snacks business later this year. Given unexciting prospects in the U.S., the new company, which will be called Mondelez International, will focus heavily on emerging markets.
Oreos haven’t always been popular outside the U.S. Kraft struggled for years in China, for instance, and considered leaving five years ago. The cookie “was spectacularly underperforming,” says Sanjay Khosla, Kraft’s president of developing markets. One problem: Kraft offered Chinese consumers the same type of Oreos that it sold in the U.S. “There was a belief that what was good for the U.S. was good for the world,” Khosla says.
After surveys showed that Chinese consumers found Oreos too sweet, Kraft put Andrade to work coming up with a new formula to better suit local tastes. In India, Kraft encountered the opposite problem: The American-style cookie was too bitter, Indians told researchers. Adjusting for local preferences “isn’t a matter of just removing one ingredient,” says Andrade. “It’s about making sure you balance the flavors. You almost have to reconstruct the product.”