Plan Your Menu Around the Facts.
When people dine out, they’re looking for more than just something to satisfy their hunger. They want an experience, and delicious food that’s fun to eat is a large part of it. Will adding HFCS-free items to the menu add to your guests’ dining pleasure? According to independent consumer research, HFCS is probably the last thing diners think of when they walk through your doors.
NPD Group Survey: "I'll have the usual."
In 2012, the market research firm NPD Group conducted a survey of more than 2,800 consumers on their awareness and attitudes on health, nutrition and key food ingredients—including HFCS—at restaurants.
The findings show that ingredient concerns, particularly regarding sweeteners, have little influence on a person’s choice of restaurant or menu item. Although 51 percent of those surveyed said they have tried to eliminate their use of a food, beverage or food ingredient in the past six months, their intentions fail to materialize into actual action. For example, in aided questioning, 35 percent of consumers said their concern over fried foods would influence what they eat at their usual restaurant. Yet, only 8 percent of consumers said they always consider avoiding fried food when they eat out.
As for HFCS, concern was minimal—especially compared to other ingredient concerns. Just 1 percent of those surveyed said they avoid HFCS, and only 4 percent said they would visit a restaurant because it had eliminated HFCS from the menu.
However, the NPD Group survey revealed that diners are hungry for nutritional information. Specifically, 39 percent of those surveyed order food based on nutritional information found on the menu, with calorie content being the top nutrition item they are seeking.
Mintel: HFCS is not a consumer concern.
What NPD Group found among restaurant-goers, Mintel Research Consultancy also saw among consumers in general. In 2012, Mintel surveyed 2,400 primary household grocery shoppers about their attitudes toward sweeteners and HFCS. The survey included purchasing considerations for 12 high-volume food and beverage categories such as bread, yogurt and cold cereals. Key findings revealed:
In any given category, no more than 3% of consumers specifically avoid HFCS.
Fewer than 5% of consumers check labels for HFCS.
Nearly 80% of consumers are concerned about total sugars, not a specific type.
Nielsen: HFCS-free products aren’t succeeding in the marketplace.
As part of a comprehensive review of retail products and the performance of their different sweetener formulation strategies, Nielsen data has been collected on an ongoing basis since 2010. The shopper data comes from all outlets combined, including Walmart, and covers the sales of 25 leading brands across more than 3,200 SKUs in beverages, baked goods and prepared foods.
What the receipts show is conclusive: Regardless of market strategy, brands that switch to HFCS-free formulations have continually seen flat or falling marketing share.
Why increase costs when you don’t have to?
Switching to HFCS-free formulations can increase your commissary costs significantly. For example, a bakery switching to granulated sugar will experience between a 50 to 85 percent increase in formulary costs.1 In soft drinks, switching to HFCS-free formulations almost doubles sweetener costs.2
Why invest the time, money and resources into a menu item that your customers aren’t even looking for, let alone likely to purchase? HFCS costs less than sugar, and it’s nutritionally equivalent to sugar.3 As a restaurateur, you’ve already got enough on your plate, as you work to please guests, stand out in the marketplace and keep your costs under control. The good thing is the facts show you don’t have to take HFCS off the menu to keep diners happy.
1. David Guilfoyle, found and owner, Half Baked Innovations, “The True Cost of Switching from HFCS to Sugar,” December 2010.
2. NECG analysis, confidential sources; fully loaded COGS at bottler plant level before delivery costs. December 2011.
3. American Medical Association, June 2008; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2012; Center for Science in the Public Interest, March 2010.