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National Restaurant Association - Diners seek more healthful meals at restaurants

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Diners seek more healthful meals at restaurants

A majority of diners say they are ordering more healthfully when they eat out, according to recent research from the National Restaurant Association.

The 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast found that 72 percent of adult diners said they try to eat more healthfully at restaurants than they did two years ago. The report further determined that 78 percent of adult females said they were more likely to choose more healthful menu items, while 65 percent of adult males said they would make healthful choices. Additionally, younger adults said they were more likely than their older counterparts to order more healthfully.

The research found that 74 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they order more healthfully at restaurants than they did two years ago, compared with 73 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds, 76 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds, 72 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds and 65 percent of adults aged 65 and older.

"This is due mainly to an increased interest in healthful living among adults and children," said Joan McGlockton, the NRA's vice president of industry affairs and food policy. "Consumers have been educated in the importance of living healthier lives and this is translating into an increased interest in healthful menu items. America's restaurants recognize this and are stepping up to the plate to serve numerous better-for-you items while continuing to offer the choice and variety consumers expect and demand."

McGlockton added that "the popularity of the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program is just one example of the industry's commitment toward offering more healthful meals, especially where children are concerned."

The report also stated that restaurant operators across all segments said their customers were paying more attention to the nutritional content of their food than they did two years ago.

"There's definitely a growing segment of customers that is more conscious of what they're eating in terms of nutrition and clean labeling," said Louis Basile, president and CEO of Wildflower Bread Co., the fast-casual bakery-café chain based in Scottsdale, Ariz. He added that "There still is a large number of the population that pretty much eats what it wants regardless of what the nutritional information might be. At Wildflower, we leave [the choice] up to each individual customer. We like to provide them with information and the option of choosing how they'd like to eat. They decide what to order, select what they'd like and how much to add on. The decision rests with each individual customer."

Basile said the demand for a variety of foods will always exist, however, continued advances in technology and knowledge will influence the choices some customers make when dining out.

"Because of ... technology and the amount of information available through different mediums, consumers are becoming much more educated [about nutrition]," he said. As a result, "they're making choices that better fit their individual lifestyles. While I don't see that changing, I do think the amount of information that is shared with customers will continue to increase - as it should - so they can eat as they choose."

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