Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Latte and More--or Just Latte?

What happens when a restaurant posts calorie counts for menu items? Stanford Graduate School of Business researched this question by studying customer behavior at three Starbucks units that started showing calorie info on menu boards.

The results: Customer transactions involved slightly lower calorie counts than before calorie info was posted. The difference was only 6%, but at least people were using the calorie info to make healthier choices.

What is interesting is how the lower calorie total was achieved. According to the study, "average calories from food per transaction fell by 14%, of which 10% is due to people buying fewer items and 4% is due to people buying lower-calorie food items." In other words, buyers didn't give up their lattes, they bought less food or lighter-cal food.

This trend toward buying lower-cal foods persisted for at least 10 months after the first time Starbucks posted calorie counts. Buyers apparently adjusted to their lower-cal habits and didn't go back to higher-cal items for some time.

From a business standpoint, Starbucks didn't lose revenues by posting calorie info, according to the research. In fact, the study found that "for Starbucks stores located within 50 meters of a competitor, calorie-postings led to an increase in Starbucks revenue."

The Starbucks site has detailed nutrition info for every item, such as this 8-grain roll. Confronted by the delicious look and aroma of bakery items, it's impressive that in-store buyers were able to resist higher-cal foods in favor of lower-cal foods. Either way, Starbucks came out a winner.

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