When Food Advocates Tell You What To Serve Your Customers

It was interesting to see Chili's re-rejigger their menu recently, eliminating a number of recently added healthier menu items to focus on the chain's traditional fare of burgers, ribs and fajitas.

Yet again, another well-meaning company, while attempting to "healthify" their menu, discovers their customers never went there for healthy food in the first place. Nobody goes to Chili's for quinoa and kale.

But Chili's recent about-face highlights a risk all companies face: not knowing the difference between what people say they want and what people actually want.

Or to put a finer distinction on it: what people who know what's good for us say they want, and what actual customers want.

Consider food policy experts like Marion Nestle or Michele Simon: both would love it, simply love it, if chains like Chili's and McDonald's were to offer far more "healthier" food options.[1] They've both put extensive public pressure on many of these companies, criticizing their current food offerings and demanding healthy items like salads, fruit, and so on. And even when, say, McDonald's does offer a healthier option, it never satisfies: Nestle and Simon will reliably say the company "hasn't gone far enough."

But here's the problem: Michele Simon and Marion Nestle aren't customers of these chain restaurants. Neither would be caught dead eating at a Chili's, much less McDonald's. Hilariously, Michele Simon even wrote in her book that she only enters fast food joints to use their rest rooms![2]

Which takes us to an interesting question: When a food policy expert campaigns for major menu changes at restaurants they'll never go to, can you come up with any reason--any reason whatsoever--why a company would bother to listen? If a food advocate wants to influence what companies offer their customers, is this really the way to go about it?

READ NEXT: The Consumer Must Be Protected At All Times
And: When It Comes To Banning Soda, Marion Nestle Fights Dirty

Amazon Links: 
Michele Simon's book Appetite for Profit
Marion Nestle's book Food Politics

[1] Let's set aside for the moment the highly uncomfortable topic of how recent dietary science has turned upside down much of our views about which foods are healthy.

[2] See Appetite For Profit, page 197: "Another survey showed that nearly all U.S. adults, at one time or another (97 percent) eat at fast food restaurants. For those of us (like me) who only see the inside of a fast food joint on long road trips (and even then just to use the restroom), this statistic is a sobering reminder of how the rest of the nation eats."

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