Project: TrEAT Yourself Well Restaurant Nutrition Program in California

Client: California Department of Health Services


Marketing: San Diego, California

As a pilot study, Juárez &: Associates and Accents On Health conducted a social marketing campaign in San Diego entitled "TrEAT Yourself Well" to encourage the selection of healthier restaurant meals. Improving the nutritional value of restaurant meals is important because research shows that the frequency of dining out is increasing and most restaurant meals contain insufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables and are too high in fat.

The goals of this program were:

  • To provide target consumers with information to create awareness of healthy menu choices in restaurant settings
  • To position healthy menu entrées as positive choices among the target consumers
  • To increase the percentage of restaurant sales and positive consumer attitudes toward healthy menu selections

For the campaign, a healthy entrée was defined as including 2 or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables and containing under 30% of calories from fat or under 20 grams of fat.

Six restaurant chains (primarily family style and quick-serve) agreed to promote the healthier menu choices during the 15-month period between 1 March 2000 and 31 May 2001. Within each chain, customer attitude surveys and monthly sales data were collected in two San Diego locations (experimental restaurants subject to the social marketing promotions) and one or two control locations outside the San Diego promotion region. Also within each chain, the menus designated the healthy menu items identically in experimental and control locations.

Promotions implemented for the experimental sites in San Diego included paid advertising (KFMB Channel 8 TV ad spots and full page color ads in San Diego Magazine) and brochure distribution for all the participating restaurants. Other in-restaurant and neighborhood promotions varied among restaurants, and included waitstaff incentives and contests, a custom newspaper insert, restaurant database mailings, food sampling, and promotion to and through health providers in the community.

Data from four restaurant chains were analyzed to measure changes in customer behavior and attitudes during the program, and to ascertain which marketing techniques were most closely correlated with increasing sales of the healthier choices. Focus group and survey data showed that most diners look for taste and value in restaurant meals and have only mild to moderate interest in the nutrition aspects.

Nevertheless the customer survey data showed significantly more diners reported awareness of the campaign as well as positive attitudes toward the purchase of the healthy meals by the end of the campaign in the experimental locations. Sales data showed a significant increase in sales of the healthy menu items. Multiple regression analysis showed paid media to be largely ineffective in increasing sales during the measurement period. The promotions most effective in increasing sales of the targeted dishes were:

  • Paying waitstaff to promote the healthy items
  • Mailing coupons to restaurant database customers
  • Offering restaurant gift certificates to health providers to raise their awareness of the campaign and encourage them to distribute materials to clients or patients