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Value meals ‘source of surplus calories’

Dubai, March 1, 2011

Bundled meals – or ‘value meals’ – offered by restaurants are a key source of unwanted calories for cost conscious customers, said a recent study.

The research conducted by Richard Staelin from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Kathryn Sharpe of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, studied consumers’ purchase patterns and eating behavior when presented with bundled and á la carte options from fast-food menus.

Their findings indicate that consumers respond positively to the perceived cost-savings and the simplified ordering process of a value meal versus á la carte options.

Consumers are more likely to order smaller portions from an a la carte menu than they would when bundled options are available.

These findings occur even when there is no cost savings associated with choosing the combo meal and most diners don’t realize they end up eating larger amounts of unhealthy food when they order combination menu items.

“The perceived value of a bundled meal encourages consumers to super-size their orders,” Staelin said. “Our study found 26 per cent of participants increased the size of the meal bundle when given the combo meal option, consuming more than 100 additional calories per meal compared to a la carte menu items at the same prices.”

The research surveyed 215 adults over the age of 21 who indicated they ate at a fast-food restaurant at least once a month. Participants were selected from a demographically diverse sample of the US population.

The study first asked participants to imagine they were traveling on a cross-country road trip and stopping at nine different fast-food outlets. For each hypothetical outlet, participants viewed pictures of the types of menu items they could choose (entrees, drinks and fries) and were shown the amount they would have spent on their selected meals.

In addition to the imaginary road trip, participants were offered further meal choices with varying portion sizes and item combinations for a total of 33 meal selection options.

Fifteen per cent of participants who didn’t order fries in an a la carte-only option chose to order medium fries with a 380-calorie increase when offered a bundled meal alternative.

Furthermore, 26 per cent of participants who chose the small fries option from the a la carte-only menu opted for a bundled meal alternative with medium fries and a 150-calorie increase.

“When people bundle, they end up choosing a meal with a lot more calories,” Sharpe said. “Over the entire population, if you look at the average impact for a consumer when a bundle is offered, it’s at least an extra 100 calories. That can make a big difference.”

“I think there is some responsibility for them [fast foods operators] to really evaluate, are they creating need, or are they meeting need? That is where we get into, is this ethical or not?” Sharpe added.

Staelin and Sharpe said policy options, such as a tax on soft drinks and other foods, will not induce consumers to substantially reduce their consumption of unhealthy foods.

The researchers recommend implementing size standards and reducing drink and side-item portion sizes within the combo meal option, which will decrease calorie consumption. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Dubai | research | Restaurants | calories | Value meals |

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