Unilever's World Menu Report Asks: What's in your food?

Unilever Food Solutions' World Menu Report measures attitudes toward eating out.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Seventy percent of U.S. diners say they want more information about the sourcing and nutritional value of their meals when dining out, and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) agree they would choose healthier meals if more information was provided, according to Unilever Food Solutions' new World Menu Report, "What's in Your Food?"

The global report, which surveyed 3,500 diners in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, China, Russia, Brazil and Turkey who eat out at least once a week, was conducted to measure consumers' attitudes and behaviors toward eating out and focused on health and nutrition.

Highlighting the growing need for the foodservice industry to provide increased transparency for consumers, the top three things people want to know when eating out is the source of the food, how it is prepared and the nutritional value. In China people were most concerned with the safety of the food and whether it was hygienically prepared.

Although an overwhelming majority of U.S. respondents said they want greater transparency about ingredient sourcing and production, preparation details and nutritional content, 83 percent said that information is not currently offered when dining out. However, the report also shows the demand for more information is less pronounced among U.S. diners than their counterparts in non-western and developing nations, where 90 percent or more of respondents said they wanted greater transparency about meal content.

"Globally, consumers' attitudes toward healthy eating are evolving and their desire for delicious food when dining out is constant," said Lisa Carlson, MS, RD, development nutritionist, R&D, Unilever Food Solutions North America.

"Consumers want food that tastes good, but they also want food that is good for them. Because of this, today's chefs have a tremendous opportunity to help consumers eat better by providing healthy, great-tasting menu options, as well as increasing transparency about meal content so that consumers can make informed decisions."

Key findings include: More than two-thirds (67 percent) of U.S. respondents said that food labels, including low fat and calorie content, would be a welcome addition to their menu when dining out. This is slightly less than in non-western countries and developing nations where more than 75 percent of respondents said that they would like this type of information added to their menus. The key reason why nutritional information might be important is that it could help people make healthier choices. In the UK (75 percent), China (80 percent) and Brazil (63 percent), a clear majority of respondents mentioned ‘health' in their answers to why nutritional information would influence their choices.

Across all surveyed countries, fat, calories, preservatives and food additives topped respondents' lists of the nutrients and ingredients they are most interested in knowing more about when dining out. In the U.S. and UK, sodium is also seen as an important topic for information, while in China respondents would like to know more about the vitamins and proteins in their meals.

Globally, consumers' attitudes toward healthy eating are evolving and their desire for delicious food when dining out is constant.

– Lisa Carlson, Unilever Food Solutions North America.

Additionally, nearly all respondents surveyed globally said that restaurants should take the lead in ensuring more transparency regarding the content of meals.

"The World Menu Report has highlighted a clear call-to-action for those of us within the food service industry – we need to not only provide consumers with delicious food but also the information they want and need about their meal content," said Steven Jilleba, CMC executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions North America, Lisle, Ill., which is helping facilitate transparency by providing ingredient and nutritional information for all of its products and working closely with chefs and operators to create healthy and tasty meal options.

The company will release findings from the second issue of the World Menu Report, focused on sustainability, later this year.

"This entire brand relaunch is built upon bringing practical tips to operators so they can have better operations and more profitable restaurants," says Channel Marketing Director Ted Skodol. "We're going to help operators create items that are healthy and tasty, control costs, and meet the evolving tastes of consumers."

"There's an important message here for foodservice operators of all types: When you purchase a Unilever product, you're getting consulting behind that product, including insights on nutritional input, marketing, trends, data, and culinary creativity," says Unilever corporate chef David Russell. "It's comprehensive, clear, available, and helpful."

The services are not just for posh establishments. Quick-service venues seeking fresh menu items that capture today's fascination with bold flavors can also find a solution with the help of Unilever's ready-to-use flavor profiles to produce menu offerings that are consistent, systematic, and on trend. Unilever executive chef Gerald Tomlinson, a former executive chef at McDonald's, cites Unilever's newest line of aiolis under the Hellmann's banner as a particularly appealing option.

"Here's an opportunity to take something that's at fine dining and bring it into the quick-service level in an inventive way that respects the time and labor needs of the kitchen," Tomlinson says.

Unilever identified burgeoning consumer interest in the nutritional content of restaurants' menu items in its World Menu Report, and can help with this long-term journey by reducing its products' fats, sugars, and sodium to respond to growing consumer attentiveness. As a result, operators will be better equipped to meet consumer demands for healthy food with savory tastes.

"We want to be a part of the solution and an ally in our operators' quest to win customers," Skodol adds.

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