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Chain restaurants such as KFC, Uno and Starbucks are finding that calories count

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Instead, Uno turned its attention to its flatbread pizzas. It introduced more-healthful varieties, such as the Roasted Eggplant, Spinach and Feta (840 calories) and the Harvest Vegetable, a five-grain crust topped with, among other things, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, cheddar and mozzarella (960 calories). The Harvest Vegetable, which went on the menu in October, became Uno's top seller. Within two months, 33 percent of all flatbread pizzas were ordered on a five-grain crust.

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Other chains are making similar moves. Taco Bell's Fresco menu has eight items with nine grams of fat or fewer. Long John Silver's has a Freshside Grille menu that focuses on non-fried fish. More than 300 chain restaurants now promote their more-nutritious dishes on the Healthy Dining Finder (http://www.healthydiningfinder.com), a Web site that lists restaurants that offer at least four meals with fewer than 750 calories and 25 grams of fat.

"Restaurants know they need to do something. They hear it from their customers. It's going to be mandated by law. It's becoming important both in operations and marketing," said Anita Jones-Mueller, Healthy Dining Finder's president.

Offering more-healthful foods doesn't appear to affect overall sales, though, anecdotally, it seems to encourage diners to order more carefully. When calorie labeling became mandatory in New York, Guidara said, he held his breath, fearful that customers would punish the company for some of its high-calorie offerings. Sales of deep-dish pizzas did slip 6 percent, but overall sales remained steady: The number of salads ordered jumped 11 percent, and steaks, not considered a health food unless you're an Atkins devotee, increased by about 8 percent. At Le Pain Quotidien, the top-selling tartine, or open-faced sandwich, had been a 690-calorie grilled chicken with smoked mozzarella. Within months of the chain's move to post calories, the 350-calorie smoked salmon tartine had risen from the No. 7 spot to become the best-seller.

"What we noticed was the lower the calories, the greater the sales. And the higher the calories, the greater the sales decline," said Jack Moran, the bakery's vice president of brand and food and beverage.

Indeed, in areas where menu labeling is required, offering more healthful food might improve sales overall. After New York's law went into effect, Le Pain Quotidien's sales of brownies and tarts dipped. A year later, the bakery introduced bite-size versions. Some customers downsized to the smaller version. But the option also attracted a new group of customers who previously had skipped dessert, Moran said.

According to the Stanford study of Starbucks sales, calorie posting had no effect on profits except in stores near competitor Dunkin' Donuts. In those stores, revenues increased by 3 percent, suggesting that consumers substituted items not only within stores but also across them.

"Before menu labeling, most of what restaurants did was add grilled chicken and salads and apple slices. But with it, they have the benefit of having people notice the changes they make," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington public-health advocacy group.

For example, she said, restaurants might switch to leaner ground beef, lower-fat mayonnaise or a smaller bun. All are decisions that can have substantial impact on the nutritional bottom line. "They can cut calories in innovative ways and get credit," she said. "It opens up a whole new host of possibilities for restaurants."

Graphic

How posting calorie information affects purchases


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