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Marketing a Healthy Menu

organic menu item at restaurant In a 2008 poll by the National Restaurant Association, 76% of adults claimed they are trying to eat healthier when they go out to eat, compared to two years ago.1 To attract these customers, it is essential that you include at least a few healthy items on your menu, and you may also want to market your healthy alternatives.

Rules for Providing Nutritional Information

Foods served or sold exclusively in restaurants, bakeries and delis are generally exempt from nutritional labeling requirements unless a nutritional claim is made on a label available to the customer.2 For example, you only have to list the fat content of a menu item if you claim it is “low-fat.” However, some states and cities – such as Colorado, California, New York City and Philadelphia – have passed restaurant nutrition legislation, such as laws that ban trans fats or require restaurants to display calorie content,3 so be sure to check your local laws and codes.

If you choose to list the nutritional information for your menu items, hire a professional consultant. Nutritional consultants can analyze your recipes and dishes to determine the correct nutritional values and fat, carbohydrate, gluten and calorie contents. They can also help you create an FDA-approved label or pamphlet with a list of ingredients, allergen identification and nutrition facts. Many nutritional consulting businesses will even help you market your healthy foods and menu.

Indicating Healthy Menu Items

A survey by the National Restaurant Association shows that while 70% of restaurants have added more healthy options to their menu recently, only half of those restaurants mark the healthy items as such on the menu.4

Although they may claim to look for healthy items when they eat out, in general, customers do not want to think about calorie counts when they are dining at a restaurant. It is usually better to imply that menu items are healthy in the description than to mark them with a special symbol or list the calorie or fat content. So instead of marking items as “health foods,” try putting a tag or indicator in the title, description or category of menu items. For example, use the word “fresh” or “guiltless” to mark healthy items or categories. This is a good way to promote them without designating their calorie count.

There are, however, a few exceptions. You can use special menu markers for healthy items to do the following:

Comply with local laws.

Laws in California, New York and Seattle require many chain restaurants to list their calorie counts on menus or brochures. Other state and local governments are considering similar legislature. Check your local laws to see if there are any requirements on providing nutritional information.

Reach a specific target market.

If you are targeting a market segment made up primarily of dieters or health-oriented people, you should definitely consider providing the nutritional information for all of your menu items.

Accommodate health requirements.

Some people have to carefully watch their intake of carbs, fats or calories due to health disorders, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Others who take certain medications or have food allergies or intolerances may need to see a list of ingredients to avoid having an adverse reaction.

Differentiate yourself from the competition.

If the competition is selling a lot of food with trans fats and carbs, you can gain an edge by becoming the healthier choice. For example, fast food is known for being unhealthy. Many quick-service chains, such as Subway, have had great success in marketing the low fat and low calorie contents of their healthy menu items.

Provide healthy cafeteria options.

In large-scale cafeterias, such as those found at co-ops, government institutions or university campuses, it can be beneficial to indicate the nutritional value of your food items. Since the cafeteria customers are likely to be eating there at least once a day, many of them need to know the nutritional information of their staple foods.

Advertising, Promotions and Personal Selling
Try POP Advertising.

If you do not indicate healthy items and nutritional information on your menu, you can do so with a point of purchase (POP) display.
» Learn More

Use personal selling.

If you can verify that your meals are healthy, you can contact local chapters of dieting and weight-loss clubs or support groups, like TOPS or Weight Watchers, and offer to host or cater to one of their meetings or parties. You can also contact health disorder organizations and clubs, such as a local diabetes support group, and offer to accommodate their nutritional requirements at their next get-together.

Put on a healthy promotion.

You can put on a customer contest to see who loses the most weight, hire a spokesman like Subway Jared, promote your healthy dishes with a special discount or BOGO (buy one get one) offer or put on a low-fat or low-carb bakeoff for customers or local chefs. The possibilities for promoting your healthy menu items are practically limitless.

Get listed in a directory.

Contact a guide to healthy businesses and services, such as HealthyDiningFinder.com or Organic Highways, and ask to be listed in their directory.


1 “Restaurant Industry – Facts at a Glance,” National Restaurant Association <http://www.restaurant.org/research/ind_glance.cfm> (accessed January 24, 2009).
2 FDA, Guide to Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) Requirements, August 1994 <http://www.fda.gov/ora/inspect_ref/igs/nleatxt.html#GUIDE%20FOR%20REVIEW%20OF%20NUTRITION> (accessed January 23, 2009).
3 Jerry Hirsch, “Stepping up to the plate on greater food regulation,” Los Angeles Times, 16 December 2008 <http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foodpolice17-2008dec17,0,2913651,full.story> (accessed January 23, 2009).
4 “Marketing Healthy Menu Items,” Nestle Professional, 2008 <http://www.nestleprofessional.com/United-States/en/SiteArticles/Pages/InsightsMIXMagazineMarketingHealthyChoices.aspx> (accessed January 23, 2009).