Volume 31, Issue 4 (2014) FIU Hospitality Review v.31 i.4
Forward and Call to Action
There has been much discussion over the past few years in the foodservice area related to menu labeling and local foods on menus. Menu labeling in the restaurant industry has been an important topic over the past few years as it relates to the Health Care Reform Act and chain restaurants. With the interest in healthy eating and sustainability efforts, the local foods movement has also been of interest in the foodservice industry.
Many researchers have looked at local foods and customer perception as it relates to the use of local foods. There has also been some research done as to how restaurants can try to integrate recipes using local foods into their menu items while still maintaining their costs. There are many perceived benefits to local foods including the perceived healthfulness of the food, the benefits to the local community, the increased benefits of sustainability in communities, the decreased carbon footprint that food producers and transporters emit by increasing the use of local foods, and the positive internal feelings that customers have when purchasing their foods locally.
Research shows that restaurants need to be aware of changing consumer expectations related to their menus and there has been research that shows that local foods are an important element that foodservice operations should consider adding to their menu (Finkel, 2007; Sharma, Gregoire, & Strohbehn, 2009). There has been inconsistent research that has shown that customers are willing to pay more for local foods than non-local foods (Carpio & Isengildina-Massa, 2009; Darby, Batte, Ernst, & Roe, 2008; Pirog & McCann, 2009). In some of the cases, customers are willing to pay up to 50% more for local foods, thus giving restaurant owners an opportunity to get some of their increased costs back (Darby et al., 2008).
Another area of interest of late in the restaurant industry has been the menu labeling that is starting to show up on menus, including calorie count, health benefits of menu items (heart healthy, low sodium, low calorie, etc.). The fast food industry has started to roll out nutrition information on menu boards and many restaurants have also included health and nutrition information on some of their menus as well. The use of menu labeling has started to be studied in different contexts with a variety of findings.
As consumers also may be looking for more healthful options, having menu labeling that supports their effort for looking for more healthy items on a menu may be helpful. Restaurant companies will have to be more creative in their design of healthy, possibly local foods to incorporate onto their menu. They also have to have menu items that tempt the palates of customers to encourage them to try these items, thus creating a competitive advantage for restaurants.
More research should continue to be done in the area of consumer behavior as it relates to menu purchases. By investigating consumer reaction to menu labeling and the addition of local food items to the menu, as well as customer willingness to pay, it will help restaurants determine the focus that they should put on these issues in future menu developments. Using qualitative and quantitative research will help give the industry a wider breadth and depth of knowledge related to these current trends in the foodservice industry. Also the use of longitudinal research can help foodservice operators to determine the impact of any changes to their menu on consumption, purchase behavior, and consumer preferences in a way that is not explored very often.
Call to Action:
- 1. Perform research in menu development and help industry create focused ideas on how to be innovative in their offerings to capitalize on local foods.
- 2. Continue research into the attitude-behavior gap between customers’ professed concern for local foods and sustainability and their purchase behaviors and willingness to pay for that local food.
- 3. Look at creative and innovative ideas to bring together local foods and reasonably priced menu items together to highlight more of the benefits of this food source.
- 4. Perform longitudinal studies regarding multi-unit restaurants and menu labeling to determine the potential impact of this practice on consumer behavior and health and wellness.
References: Carpio, C. E., & Isengildina‐Massa, O. (2009). Consumer willingness-to-pay for locally grown products: the case of South Carolina. Agribusiness, 25(3), 412-426.
Darby, K., Batte, M. T., Ernst, S., & Roe, B. (2008). Decomposing local: A conjoint analysis of locally produced foods. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 90(2), 476-486.
Finkel, L. (2007). Local and Fresh Foods in the U.S. Retrieved from packagedfacts.com website: www.packagedfacts.com/local-fresh-foods-1421831/
Pirog, R. & McCann, N. (2009, December). Is local food more expensive? A consumer price perspective on local and non-local foods purchased in Iowa. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University. Retrieved from: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2009-12-local-food-more-expensice-consumer-price-perspective-local-and-non-local-foods-purchased-iowa.pdf
Sharma, A., Gregoire, M., & Strohbehn, C. (2009). Assessing costs of using local foods in independent restaurants. . Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 12(1), 55-71.
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