Calorie counts on menus impact food-buying at Starbucks

The debate over the impact of nutritional information on menus continues.

The latest study comes from Stanford Graduate School of Business, whose researchers have found that posting nutritional data on menu boards can result in customers buying items with fewer calories.

The study specifically looked at cafe giant, Starbucks.

"Starbucks customers (in New York) purchased 6 percent fewer calories per visit at cafes that posted calorie counts," the report showed. (Note: New York City requires menu labeling for chains.)

Also interesting: transactions did not "substantially" impact revenue, and lower-calorie items selected were foods, not drinks.

"Average calories from food per transaction fell by 14 percent, of which 10 percent is due to people buying fewer items and 4 percent is due to people buying lower-calorie food items," the study showed.

While a 6 percent reduction in calories is too small to have a major effect on the nation's waistline, Stanford researchers say mandatory calorie-counts on menu boards could "encourage restaurants to offer more low-calorie items." (Note: Starbucks just launched a low-cal menu)

The information could give clues as to how California diners might react come next year. By Jan. 1, 2011, all restaurant chains in the state will have to post calorie information on their menus and indoor menu boards.

The Stanford study is third to examine the impact of New York's new menu labeling law. The results of two other reports released late last year involved different restaurant chains. One study said consumer eating habits didn't change at major fast-food chains, while another said nutritional data on menus resulted in diners buying foods with less calories.

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