Over the past few decades, food and beverage manufacturers have fought tooth and nail to get the right products to the right consumers at the right time.

Joyce Fassl
Twenty years ago, low-calorie but improved-tasting entrees received all of the attention. Then low-fat formulations became popular. More recently, trans fat reduction has been in the spotlight. Many manufacturers, restaurants and fast food chains quickly responded by offering the public more healthy choices.

As the battle of the American bulge continues, I find it rather ironic to learn that quite a few restaurant chains have reverted to high-calorie and high-fat offerings.

Why is that, you ask? Most people just don't want to eat healthy when dining out.

The likes of Ruby Tuesday and McDonald's have learned that most consumers are using their taste buds-not their waistlines-when making dining decisions.

The good news for food and beverage manufacturers is that all of the fat reformulations are paying off, but only if the majority of your customers happen to be retailers. If your major customers are fast food or family restaurants, fat is still the name of the game.

According to a report from Technomics, a Chicago-based research firm, only 31 percent of consumers say they have good or excellent eating habits away from home. When asked why "non-healthy" foods are chosen away from home, 49 percent of those surveyed said they like this type of food. Nearly the same percentage also said they prefer to splurge when eating out and "non-healthy" foods taste better. The researchers concluded that consumers eat "non-healthy" foods when dining out because they like them, not because there are no other alternatives.

Another ironic finding from Technomics is that overweight consumers eat out less frequently than their proper weight counterparts. But haven't we all been told that eating out less frequently is a weight-loss technique?

As Atkins Nutritionals enters Chapter 11, NutriSystem seems to become more successful. Predicting the future wants and needs of consumers is never an easy task; it's just one more challenge for manufacturers. With all the recent reformulations, it's nice to know that 60 percent of consumers claim they have good or excellent eating habits at home.

Food Engineering Editorial Advisory Board

David Watson
Vice President, Engineering
Pepperidge Farm, Inc.

Kevin Mellor
Director, Processing Center of Excellence

John Eberle
Innovation Group Manager

Dave Plinski
Director, Dairy Foods Eningeering
Land O' Lakes

Dave Gemellaro
Director, Sector Engineering
Kraft Foods

Peter Migchels
Director of Engineering, Fresh Bakeries
Maple Leaf Foods

Tom Wolters
Senior Manager Technology
Pepsico Beverages & Food

Carl Krueger
Senior Manager, Global Engineering Services
H.J. Heinz