Canadian Pizza Magazine

marketing insights: Hear no evil, eat no evil

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

When grandma told you, “Don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where that’s been,” she wasn’t kidding.

When grandma told you, “Don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where that’s been,” she wasn’t kidding.  More than ever before consumers want the gory details. They’re interested in knowing what’s in it, how it’s made, calorie count, origin of the ingredients and even how it was farmed and harvested.  Knowledge is power and while that may be true, the question remains: “How does this type of knowledge affect consumer behaviour?” Knowing what’s in the food may be good for customers but will it be good for your business?

Tell your customers the story behind your pizza and its ingredients to fill their hunger for more information on what they’re eating.

Researchers with Stanford University conducted a study at several hundred Starbucks outlets in New York City. The researchers found that consumers cut almost 15 calories off their average purchases when caloric information was posted. This shaved six per cent off of the calorie count of their average purchase. However, not all menu items were impacted equally. For the most part drinks were not affected by the posting of calorie counts. Customers purchased less food and, to a lesser extent, bought lower-calorie items. The policy had the strongest influence on heavier eaters. A separate analysis of purchases made by Starbucks cardholders found those people consuming at least 250 calories per purchase cut their intake by 26 per cent after learning what the caloric value was. The results of this study were interesting because earlier studies revealed that calorie postings at various locations of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and KFC in low-income New York City neighbourhoods had no identifiable change on consumer behaviour. Starbucks’ research was based on many more transactions and outlets over more than a year, so it is thought to be more precise. So far, so bad – if people buy less after learning how many calories a menu item has, why on earth would we share it with them?  Because it’s a great tool for customer acquisition – that’s why.  The study also found that when there was a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, Starbucks did more business.

When it comes to nutritional transparency, it’s not only calories, fat and fibre that are important.  Consumers want to grasp the processing story behind their meals as well. Many trend watchers had predicted that sales of organic products would be derailed along with the economy during the recession of 2009. Those concerns appear to be in vain. Although the organic sector has seen a significant downturn in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, where sales have dropped sharply, the U.S. market has stayed strong, with supermarket sales of organic and natural products falling by just 0.3 per cent. Mintel reports that only three per cent of American shoppers say they have stopped buying organics altogether, while 40 per cent say the recession has not altered their spending on organic products.  Recession-weary consumers are keen to have their dollars support local businesses all the way through the food chain. Capers Community Markets in British Columbia reports that 70 per cent of local shoppers not only prefer to buy local fruits and vegetables, but have also increased the amount they buy. Revealing the truth about our menus may not be tops on our list of things to do but if businesses think that they can dodge this trend bullet – think again.  After all, there’s even an app for this. promotes an iPhone application that tracks nutritional data for popular chain restaurants.  The home page proudly states “A Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad from Chili’s is over 1000 Calories. A Billy Club Sandwich from Jimmy John’s is over 850 calories (and that’s with white bread – wheat is over 1200!)”  Restaurant chains featured in the application include McDonald’s, Subway and Pizza Hut. With one click patrons can verify that a personal pan pizza (with Italian sausage and red onion) is listed as having 710 calories and 34 whopping grams of fat. Ignorance may be bliss but it won’t get you into those skinny jeans!

It’s important for us to understand that consumers have access to more information about you than ever before. The proliferation of smartphones means they can access this information even while sitting at a table in your restaurant, so the best defence will be a strong offence. The retail strategies for restaurants are simple.  First, create sections of your menu that feature items that are locally sourced, organic and healthy.  Next, if they’re nutritionally sound, calculate the calories, fat and fibre and have that information on your website and available in your operation.  Make note on your menu that this item is “under X calories” or “more than X grams of fibre.”  Consider creating a suite of icons that represent the various categories.  An apple for healthy items perhaps and a small tractor for something sourced locally. Finally, promote, promote, promote!  Sing from the hills that you have options for those customers who care about what they’re eating. The calories per order may go down but the number of orders will probably fatten up quite nicely. •

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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