Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Restaurants Not Only Feed Us, They Shape Our Food Preferences

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Restaurants Not Only Feed Us, They Shape Our Food Preferences

Article excerpt

Restaurants not only feed us, they shape our food preferences

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Michael von Massow, Associate Professor, Food Economics, University of Guelph; Alfons Weersink, Professor, Dept of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, and Bruce Gregory McAdams, Professor in Hospitality, Food and Tourism, University of Guelph

Restaurants are playing an increasingly important role in the food culture of North Americans.

In the United States, food prepared outside the home represents more than 50 per cent of the food dollar, or more than US$800 billion a year.

Canadians spend $80 billion annually in restaurants, spending almost 30 per cent of their food dollars in restaurants. They also buy a lot of prepared food for consumption at home.

But the rate of growth in restaurant spending is greater than it is for stores. This spending has an impact on the food market in a variety of ways. Most importantly, however, restaurants are changing how we think about food and what we choose to eat.

Restaurants make choices for consumers. They choose menu items and they decide how to prepare those items.

Grocery stores want to give consumers as much choice and variety as possible, but this causes issues for restaurants.

In a grocery store, for example, there may be many choices of eggs (white, brown, different sizes, organic, high Omega-3, free-run, free-range and cage-free), breakfast sausages (beef, pork, turkey, enhanced-animal welfare, reduced antibiotic use, low sodium, mild or spicy) and English muffins (regular, whole wheat, multigrain, gluten-free and low sodium).

By comparison, in most restaurants you only have one or two options for a breakfast sandwich -- likely with or without the sausage. Not only do restaurants make the choices for us, they communicate the value of those choices and can raise awareness of issues.

Nonetheless, it was quick-service restaurants like McDonald's and Tim Hortons that drove animal welfare discussions with respect to layer hens and eggs. This may, to a degree, have been driven by activist pressure, but was not due to consumer demands.

Fast-food restaurants have helped affect change

Large restaurant chains drive significant volumes of business. Their demands can drive changes in how food is produced by creating the critical mass of demand to justify those changes.

Restaurants also have a better opportunity to communicate their choices to consumers than retailers do. In a full-service restaurant, the server can describe important attributes of the dishes on offer; furthermore, a limited menu provides the opportunity to highlight those special qualities.

Chain restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, advertise and differentiate on those attributes and raise them in the consciousness of Canadians (for example, A&W and its commitment to antibiotic-free meats). …

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