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Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) marketers are in a pickle. They are criticized for serving unhealthy meals – but the "good-for-you" menu items they offer are not big sellers.
Heavy category users, fast food's most important customers, say they want to live and eat healthy. What they say and what they do, however, contradict. Most often, the items they vote for with their dollars are high in calories, fat and salt.
The number of people who sweat the healthy details when buying food has more than doubled in the past ten years, and heavy QSR users have been part of the movement. Adults 18+ who check ingredients and nutritional information increased from 25% to 58% between 2003 and 2013; among heavy QSR consumers, the proportion jumped from 25% (2003) to 54% (2013).
Typical adults and heavy QSR users also express similar sentiments toward food and health. GfK MRI attitudinal questions show they try to eat healthy and pay attention to nutrition (All Adults - 82%; heavy users - 78%). Many evaluate the nutrition of menu items at restaurants (All Adults - 46%; heavy users - 44%), and most enjoy trying different types of food (All Adults - 76%; heavy users - 75%). More than three-quarters of both groups believe they eat right.
To bridge the gap between desire and action – between good intentions and bad food decisions – represents a challenge for QSR marketers. Offering salads that no one orders does little to burnish a brand's reputation. To add authenticity and believability to their efforts, QSRs need to extend their commitment beyond the menu.
Through efforts like the CDC's National Diabetes Prevention Program, health care leaders are taking on obesity and diseases that result from it. The medical community wants to build community partnerships that will help consumers sustain healthy lifestyles through diet and exercise. QSRs can help.
Local health organizations need outreach funding. QSRs can support them by sponsoring programs like wellness fairs and health screenings. Health care providers initially might not want to be associated with fast food brands. But if approached with a plan that clearly supports healthy lifestyles, they may be interested in further discussion.
QSRs can also speak to consumer interest in local foods. More than six in ten heavy users say they try to buy food that's grown or produced locally, according to GfK MRI. QSRs can offer items with local ingredients – with farms credited and the distance from "farm to table" noted. Although purchasing local ingredients might complicate supply chains and value pricing, the practice will boost brand equity if properly promoted.
QSR marketing and social media are a perfect combo
So how can QSR marketers help get the healthy word out? According to GfK MRI, heavy QSR patrons are at least 20% more likely than typical adults to say social media is very important to them for:
QSRs can easily integrate health and nutrition in social media plans. Our social media experts offer examples of potential programs:
1. Launch "healthy meal-deals" based on customer feedback from Twitter hashtag campaigns. Offer coupons or free items as incentives for participation. A video about these new consumer-driven meals could take campaigns a step further.
2. Create a game that awards points when players order healthy items. An app can track points, redeemable for coupons or player-only offers.
The message is clear: QSR marketers have tried simply offering health items, with little success. By taking their efforts a step further, and using their powerful
For more information contact Lewis Paine, Senior Vice President of GfK Consumer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full version of this article can be found on MediaPost.
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