By Karen Axelton

While consumers are becoming more interested in healthy food options when dining out, the majority are not willing to pay more for them. That’s the conclusion of a new study by The NPD Group, “Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Go Eat.”

Surprisingly, consumers aged 50 or older were least willing of all age groups to pay more for healthier menu items—even thought this group is quite interested in eating healthfully. Some 70 percent of respondents aged 50-plus said they would not be willing to pay more money for healthful items at restaurants they frequent. One-fourth said they would pay somewhat more money, and 5 percent said they would be willing to pay a lot more money to purchase healthier foods.

In contrast, younger adults were more amenable to paying more for healthful items. While 44 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they expect prices for healthful items to be the same as other items, 41 percent said they would expect to pay somewhat more, and 15 percent said they would expect to pay a lot more.

The type of restaurant segment affected consumers’ price perceptions. Consumers at full-service restaurants were more likely to expected the same prices for healthful items as for less healthy menu options. Consumers at quick-service restaurants were more likely to expect a price differential.

In an interesting response, survey respondents said they would feel more satisfied after visiting restaurants if there were more healthful options available at the same prices as less healthful options, including on the value menu.

NPD restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs, who wrote the report, says the key takeaway from the survey is that healthy foods need to be priced similarly to other choices on a restaurants’ menu. “The market for health today is growing,” said Riggs, “and there is a good opportunity for operators who find a way to offer healthier options and lower price points.”

Do you offer healthy options on your menu, and have you found consumers actually order them?