Hot dogs, soft drinks, pizza, and candy—these are the staples of the concession stand menu. Convenient? Yes. Good for you? No.
But, if healthy food options were offered, would customers take advantage of them?
Health sciences major Olivia Haase ’15 says “yes.”
At this year’s FurmanEngaged!, Haase and her faculty mentor, Dr. Jeanine Stratton, presented their research and analysis of sales at concession stands at two Greenville County waterparks. The research, which partners with LiveWell Greenville and Rhino Concessions, targeted recreational facilities with concession stands because those areas have a captive audience and healthy food choices are typically not offered or available.
Surprisingly, they found that providing healthy food choices and marketing them to consumers at recreational facilities results in higher sales of those healthy foods.
“Looking at children between the ages of 6 and 11, researchers found that 31.8 percent of the U.S. population is obese while 33.7 percent in South Carolina and 35 percent in Greenville County hit the obesity mark. Greenville County’s numbers are among the highest in the country,” Haase said.
She and Dr. Stratton wanted to find out whether an increase in healthy choices, menus that label the healthy choices, and LiveWell-approved choices, would change the pattern of consumer purchases between 2011, the base year, and 2014. In addition to identifying the new items on menu boards, LiveWell hung banners to promote them. Among the items added were grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, wraps, and fruit cups.
“There was some price change. The average was about 50 cents more. We don’t think that would sway a purchase” either way very highly, she said.
Sales totaled nearly $90,000 in 2011. “Overall total sales are decreasing, but healthy choices sales were increasing,” Haase said. “Bottled water is through the roof. Mixed fruit cups did really well.” However, some healthy choices didn’t do as well as anticipated, perhaps because people don’t go to recreational facilities to eat healthy food.
In 2011, healthy food choices made up about 5 percent of total sales. In 2014, healthy food purchases made up nearly 14 percent of total sales. During the study period, attendance dropped from 110,000 in 2011 to 73,000 in 2013, with weather patterns being a major variable in attendance levels.
The data shows that availability of healthy choices and marketing can affect purchasing decisions, she said. But more research is needed to determine whether marketing is a major factor or whether awareness of the obesity crisis makes consumers more likely to buy a healthy choice even without promotions. Plans are underway to expand the facilities offering the LiveWell–endorsed foods.
“People are recognizing that the obesity epidemic is so grave that they must be open to healthy options,” Haase said.
But, Stratton, assistant business professor at Furman, pointed out, consumers still have a choice. The menu items were not all healthy or LiveWell endorsed.
“You’re giving them the option, but you’re also giving them the knowledge,” Haase said.
Stratton said she believes adding healthy options to menus will continue to become more prevalent. “Businesses want to do well by the communities they serve,” she said, and in the long run that’s good for the business.
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