Friday, March 20, 2009

Save $$$ & Calories

I want to take time out to acknowledge labeling laws that now require chain restaurants (15 or more stores) to display calorie, fat and other information. However, I believe chain restaurants are missing the boat and should become more proactive when it comes to nutrition.

Read On:
March is National Nutrition Month. I commend Mayor Michael Nutter of my hometown Philadelphia, “Cheesesteak Capitol”, who signed a bill in February requiring chain restaurants (15 or more stores) to display calorie, fat and other information. The law takes effect on January 1, 2010. New York City and California already have passed similar legislation. However, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Philadelphia’s law is the strongest law passed to date.

Philadelphians will now be in position to make decisions about the caloric intake of their diet. One regional operator, Wawa, Inc., a convenience store chain, announced it will post the information on in-store menus and eventually on the touch screens customers use to place their orders. Mayor Nutter will sooner or later have to call in the nutritional police at some point, given that no two sandwiches made to order at Wawa will be the same, thus yielding exact nutritional posted.

Candidly the real policing starts with the Philadelphia consumer. Portions are key when it comes to caloric intake. Wawa is not the place to go for smaller portions. Fundamentally, portion control is an area where the restaurant industry has been negligent, since a large portion connotes value. Few chains to my knowledge have explored smaller portions. Those who have, have been unsuccessful. So now I advocate that the window of opportunity has arrived for chain restaurants to get proactive, thanks to the down economy. Instead of just promoting the new value meals, which consists of smaller portions, why not emphasize that the new meals are less calories too, a more responsible marketing position, in light of the fact we know America is fighting a war on obesity.

One chain I applaud who recently utilized this strategy was la Madeline ( They first executed a LTO (Limited Time Offer) on their menu called Smart Choices, which bundled existing menu items that were nutritionally sound. For $4.99, guests could choose a meal less than 500 calories or $8.99 for a meal under 800 calories. When discussing Smart Choices with la Madeline’s COO Phil Costner, I learned that during the LTO, they experienced their fair share of bargain hunters, thanks to the economy, but it was la Madeline’s core guests that drove the LTO. Thanks to the promotion’s success, Smart Choices evolved into a permanent part of la Madeline’s menu. In Phil’s words, “Favorable nutritionals brings real value to our menu.”

A smart 2 for 1, save $$$ and calories.


  1. I do support restaurant "features" and "bundles" that clearly identify their added "nutritional value" (either from controlled calories or low fat content). However, the problem is NOT the restaurant, but the lack of nutritional education. Even the slightest knowledge of food and nutrition can trigger the consumers alarm bells when they consider certain menu items. Who doesnt understand that french fries have more fat and calories than a grilled chicken salad? Bring back food & nutrition education to the schools (like it was beginning in the 80's and early 90's). And go slap the consumer's Mamas for not observing and praticing nutrition at home!

  2. Rock on Tom. Before I read your comment I was going to say exactly the same thing. Great minds. It's ridiculous to blame a restaurant for offering, say a Butter Burger, and claim uneducated consumers don't realize that's BAD for them. There is just too much nutrition information out there. I'm shocked when I still run across people surprised at how fattening Cheese and mayo is. Why blame the restaurant when some people don't care enough about their own health to figure it out.

    Jim, you hit one of my hot-buttons.