A new study has found that providing calorie and nutrient information on restaurant menus and menu boards influences consumers' food-related evaluations and choices.
"Using only the sense of taste, smell, and sight to accurately estimate the levels of calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium found in a typical restaurant food serving is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most consumers," said authors Elizabeth Howlett (University of Arkansas), Scot Burton (Sam M. Walton College of Business), Kenneth Bates (University of San Diego), and Kyle Huggins (James Madison University).
The researchers set out to examine how nutritional data on restaurant menus influenced consumers' food choices.
They looked at how participants' prior expectations came into play and whether providing calorie and nutrient information after the consumptive experience changed their subsequent food choices.
The researchers found that providing nutritional information can influence subsequent food consumption, especially when consumers' expectations are not fulfilled when they examine the information.
"When a 'great taste' claim was used to describe a restaurant menu item, the provision of calorie information did not affect consumers' perceptions, presumably because foods that claim great taste are typically expected to be relatively high in calories," the authors said.
"On the other hand, when a 'low calorie' claim was presented but the menu item was higher in calories than expected, the provision of nutritional information increased the perceived likelihood of 1) gaining weight and 2) developing heart disease," they added.
The study shows that nutritional information can help consumers moderate their eating over time.
In one study, participants ate a sandwich that they later found was unexpectedly high in calories.
After this discovery, the participants consumed fewer snacks throughout the rest of the day.
The study appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.