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Encouraging response to Healthier Dining Programme

Participating eateries say the number of customers who pick healthier dishes are growing, with the help of promotional activities and staff assuring patrons that flavour has not been compromised.   

SINGAPORE: It has been two weeks since the Health Promotion Board (HPB) launched its Healthier Dining Programme, and food outlets Channel NewsAsia spoke to said customer response has been encouraging so far.

The programme sees HPB partnering 18 food service providers to offer meals that have a maximum of 500 calories. Customers can tell if the food outlet they are eating at is part of the Healthier Dining Programme when they flip through the menu: The Healthier Choice Symbol is placed next to certain dishes, and the menu indicates whether the dish is low in calories, higher in wholegrains or cooked in healthier oils.

Offering traditional home-cooked Cantonese dishes has always been the staple of Soup Restaurant. When it began offering brown rice as a default option for its signature dishes, the initial response from customers was weak.

"Our chef actually complained he had to throw away lots of brown rice at the end of the day," said Ms Irin Lau, the restaurant's Head of Marketing. "So we actually went through training with the front-line staff, and threw in a promotion to encourage customers to order the brown rice."

With its targeted promotions and staff assuring customers that the change will not compromise taste, the restaurant chain eventually saw an improvement, with 20 per cent of their customers opting for brown rice. It is now in the process of ensuring that 30 of its dishes have fewer than 250 calories and will integrate these dishes into a specially designed set menu.

Also jumping on the health-conscious bandwagon is a restaurant which is usually synonymous with sweet treats. Come July, Swensen's will revamp its menu to push six healthier dishes to the forefront.

"We want to cater to our existing market, but we notice an increase in dining trends for healthier options so we want to cater to that dining segment as well," said Mr Andrew Khoo, Director of Business Development & Operations, Food & Beverage division, ABR Holdings (Swensens).

"We have to be smart in terms of the way we source products. Right now, the healthier dishes we have on the menu have exactly the same pricing as the rest of our dishes. In terms of our margin costs, we've been able to manage that, so no impact on our business," he added. 

Already, the restaurant chain has seen a 20 per cent increase in customers ordering its fish dishes. Healthy options take up 10 per cent of total sales, with young working professionals - mostly women - as the customer base.

Hand-made noodle eatery Formosa Delights has seen 10 per cent of its customers opting for wholemeal noodles. It hopes to double this number by working with HPB.

In the works: a loyalty card programme where customers can collect stamps at the outlets participating in Healthier Dining Programme, which will entitle them to a lucky draw. This will be part of HPB's marketing campaign to generate demand for healthier meals.

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