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Consumers eager for menu labeling

With a national calorie-posting mandate on the horizon for chains with 20 or more units, signed as part of the federal health care bill, restaurant-goers are welcoming the notion of menu transparency, according to a survey by trend tracker Mintel.

Still, consumers want their food to taste good above all else.

More than 60 percent of consumers think nutrition information should be posted on menus, and 44 percent believe federal or local governments should make that happen, the survey released Wednesday by Chicago-based Mintel found.

When dining out, 60 percent of survey respondents said they look for menu options that taste great. Another 23 percent say they want a healthy meal. Only 14 percent of diners said they are never interested in ordering a healthful restaurant meal.

“Menu transparency will allow consumers to have control over their food decisions with complete understanding of what they’re eating,” said Eric Giandelone, Mintel’s director of foodservice research. “However, getting people to eat healthier requires more than just posting calories or adding healthy options to the menu … the food also has to taste good.”

Restaurant operators may fear that more healthful items won’t sell as well, but Giandelone said there’s also the risk that high-calorie items will suffer when nutritional information is revealed.

“There may be some initial consumers shock at the calorie counts and chains may have to start listing lower-calorie options or smaller portion sizes to help diffuse this unpleasant surprise,” he said.

Close to half of the survey respondents said they have been eating more healthfully in restaurants over the past year, though they have done that in different ways. About 67 percent have reduced fat, while 52 percent said they have chosen more fruit and vegetables. Another 49 percent said they are cutting calories by ordering less food.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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