(Jan. 13) Consumers don’t need expert advice when making healthy dining out decisions.

That’s the contention of the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., which came to that conclusion after conducting a national telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults.

“Consumers are getting tired of hearing what’s bad and what’s good for them,” said Hudson Riehle, NRA’s senior vice president of research and information.

“Virtually all consumers feel they are knowledgeable enough to decide if what they’re eating is healthy.”

IMPACT OF CONCLUSIONS

Some who supply fresh produce to foodservice purveyors say such seemingly obvious survey conclusions won’t help nor harm fresh produce sales.

“It has the appearance of an industry defending itself from the suggestion that some of their members might be conducting some marketing and advertising that is less than truthful, particularly that aimed at children,” said Tim York, president of Markon, Salinas, Calif., a foodservice purchasing cooperative.

“I would hope the restaurant industry, in response to the growing concern about obesity in America, would take a more proactive approach and reduce the amount of oil (or fat) in the food.”

In its news release, the NRA said the research, conducted in November, shows that consumers are clearly hearing what nutrition experts say — that all foods can be part of a healthy diet — and do not need the ‘food police’ telling them which food items to include in, or exclude from, their diets.”

The survey found more than 68% of respondents said they were tired of hearing about what is good and what is bad for them when it comes to food. Riehle said the finding was a substantial increase from a similar poll conducted 10 years ago that used a different methodology.

‘It was a huge increase, well more than 20 percentage points,” he said.

HEALTHIER DISHES

Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., said she travels 60% to 70% of the time. She said she thinks restaurants are providing healthier dishes.

“Going into restaurants these days, I find the chefs to be so accommodating,” she said. “They allow you to make substitutions. Not even five years ago, you couldn’t change much on your plate.”

McNeece said a chef at an Orlando, Fla., restaurant recently made a carrot turnip soup that was one of the best she has ever eaten.

A Dec. 17 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Atlanta regional director of Jersey Mike’s Subs, an East Coast sandwich chain, as saying he thought many consumers were driving past McDonald’s and making more healthful fast-food choices.

“Just think about all the advertising Subway has been doing for their sandwiches,” said Edith Garrett, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based International Fresh-cut Produce Association.

“That message is subtle but is getting to the public. People are thinking twice before buying heavier fat content or higher-calorie foods.”

York said Markon has seen double-digit foodservice fresh produce growth. He points to the success of quick-service restaurant operators such as Wendy’s and Burger King that have introduced healthier salad lines.

York attributes the sales increase to the its spring mix salad offerings.

McNeece, however, said she understands the problems with conflicting nutrition messages.

“After a while, it does become extremely confusing, with all these experts telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat,” McNeece said.