by Marion Nestle
Jun 6 2010

Calorie postings go personal?

My latest San Francisco Chronicle column is about calorie labeling going national and what the FDA is going to have to do to write regulations that make it work effectively.

While we are waiting for all that, how about what Burgerville is doing.  Burgerville, a fast-food chain in the Pacific Northwest, now does personalized calorie counts.  When you get your food, your receipt displays the calories for each item you ordered.  It also makes suggestions for ordering lower calorie items: “if you like the blueberry shake, you might consider getting a blueberry smoothie next time.”

Will doing something after-the-fact like this affect future food choices?  Researchers: get busy!

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  • Wow, this is rather surprising and refreshing to hear that a fast food chain would do something like this. I think it’d be most affective if it were posted both on the board where you order and on an individual’s receipt, showing the final number after all personal items are added up. Will more fast food restaurants follow this example? I think that would be highly unlikely.

  • Interesting concept but so awkwardly laid out, the “next time” mention is so off. It makes consumers regret their choice.
    I’m confident that the nutritional disclaimer will be generalized over the next few years, for the good of the customer.

  • I like it, but I wonder if some consumers would resent having this information in their face.

    Jim Purdy

  • Christie

    I eat at Burgerville (local/seasonal foods!recycling and composting!), and the first time I got the receipt, it was pretty cool, especially since I knew I wasn’t quite getting all the calories and fat since our family of three shares a small thing of fries and the smoothie we order. We all studied it. What it lacked was the ability to compare one item to another and the suggestions for next time are really obvious. The next time we went I forgot to look at the receipt at all. Kind of cool, but at the same time, I think it will quickly become part of the background. Ultimately, I like that they have the guts to put it right out there, “the meal you are eating is high in fat and calories.”

  • Pete

    They need to leverage it better, say juxtapose it with a comparable meal at McD’s or the like. That is if they are promoting lower calories. Then they can see you can do even better next time, even have a goal for progressively ordering lower calorie meals, 5 in a row and you get a free one. I take exception to the fact that it promotes the simplification of the energy equation (mass=kcal in – kcal out). It is preposterous to think that the human body reacts to food as energy the same way as an oven. (Tell someone thats ever taken Pregnizone that its all about calories.) BUT… that not withstanding, it at least calls attention to what the person is eating. the hardest part is to get people to pay attention, then care, then act.

  • I went to Burgerville for the first time yesterday and saw this. I have to say, it was a good reminder that just because Burgerville makes local and sustainably-produced fast food, it is still fast food. They aren’t promoting low-calorie, healthy food. They are making fast food burgers, which is fine every once in awhile, as long as you’re aware that it should really be an every-once-in-awhile thing.

    I say kudos to them!

  • i like the idea. I often make a point of remembering if I learn about a product of which I was unaware at one of my regular haunts. Not so great for “passing through” customers though.

  • I love this idea! I wrote a blog post the other day about the top ten worst dishes to order at a restaurant and I’m not sure how I feel about knowing the calorie counts of EVERY item on a menu. With that said, knowing how much the item YOU ordered is, and very specifically in terms of your preference in toppings, etc. – that makes a lot of sense to me. I also like the suggestions for how to lower the calorie count, I personally would definitely take that suggestion into consideration next time…as long as it wasn’t my favorite topping…

    nice post!

  • Anonymouse

    Disgusting and totally intrusive. Do I really need a restaurant telling me I’m fat, or commenting on my personal choices?

  • alicia

    There are a few places in King County, Seattle that have also used the Nutricate system for printing calorie information on receipts. I think it is nice that Burgerville is offering nutrition information to customers, but I also think they are taking the easy way out. It doesn’t cost them very much to give customers information after ordering; they don’t have to change signs, menus, etc. and they also don’t run the risk of losing money from customers ordering smaller (less calorie dense) meals.

    Most likely customers aren’t going to demand their money back, and are probably still going to eat the food even after they read the receipt.

    I think its a good start, but if customers don’t have nutrition information at the point of purchase, then its probably not going to change their purchasing decisions much.

  • I think it’s more important to watch what we eat than count our calorie intake. Our family believes that as long as we’re eating the right things and in moderation, we’d do good. Our stomach know pretty much when we’ve had enough. And quite honestly, it’s difficult to count calories with all the interesting and delicious dishes we can create! Just lately I found great tips to prepare avocado. Anyone want to try them out? http://sn.im/wyeyf 🙂

  • Andrew Baron

    I’m a huge fan of the Burgerville’s nutrition info receipts, and one thing Marion leaves out in this post is that they couple that approach with a truly creative rotating menu. The day I went there, I got a grilled coho salmon sandwich with lightly-fried asparagus fries. It coast about 7.50 all together and it was probably the best fast food meal I’ve ever had. Burgerville isn’t just providing calorie and fat counts for the same old fast food burgers and fries. They’re providing nutritional information coupled with a creative menu that gives people more options to choose healthier food. I mean, what other fast food place would serve asparagus? Great, great food.

  • alicia

    Yes they couple that approach with “seasonal menu items” but so does every other fast food restaurant.

    I like Burgerville, and I do appreciate their effort to use local ingredients and their efforts for sustainability, but we still have a responsibility to look past their marketing strategies.

    The grilled coho salmon you ate had more calories (~60), fat grams (4g), and sat. fat grams (2g) compared to their sole fillet sandwich (which has about 120mg more sodium then the grilled salmon).

    Asparagus is a fantastic alternative to french fries, but do they really need to be fried? They have 90 fewer calories then french fries (when you compare their regular sizes), have the same fat grams, .5g fewer sat. fat, BUT 380mg more sodium.

  • wintersweet

    I like the calorie total idea, and I’d remember the suggestion for next time if I liked the suggestion. People who are upset by can ignore it.

    I wish they’d come to the SF Bay Area–I’ve been kvetching for years about the absence of any non-ultra-unhealthy fast food options (In-n-Out doesn’t really count). I think there’s a fallow market here!

    You listening, Burgerville?

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