Healthier Food is Almost Twice as Expensive per Calorie than Less Healthy Food in Major Restaurant Chains


Chief SMASHer
SMASHing Nutrition

Wednesday, 6th April 2022

From today, food businesses with over 250 employees must clearly display the calories of their menus items and food labels, in the UK government’s bid to improve the nation’s health, tackle obesity, and encourage consumers to make more informed decisions when eating out.

Although transparency is critically important, this mandate has further exposed that healthier foods are on average almost twice as expensive calorie-for-calorie than less healthy foods in major restaurant chains, according to SMASH’s nutritional framework, making the cost of eating better when out and about much less accessible and affordable. The publication of calories right next to price now provides the consumer with a critical data point to consider the perceived “value” of that dish. For purpose driven brands who really want to go beyond compliance now that the hard work on calorie labelling is done, we support them to consider testing promotions on their healthier food offers to improve their value perception, and their volume.  

SMASH looked at 12 high-street chains to see what proportion of their menus were in fact SMASH-approved (healthier) and which ones offered the best value when it comes to eating better.  What it found was an average mark-up of over 90% per calorie for healthier options across the board, albeit a broad spread (from 20% to 180%) depending on the pricing policies and menu composition of each brand. SMASH’s partner LEON is the only restaurant that now offers a healthier menu range that is less expensive per calorie than their less healthy options, after the 20% SMASH discount comes into play. Although the SMASH nutritional framework is based on upper limits for calories, it also takes into account limits on saturated fat, sugar and salt and also includes fibre and protein info in the product nutrition display panel.

With a couple of exceptions (notably Burger King who appear yet to get out of the blocks with a health agenda), many brands are starting from a position of relative strength in terms of product range. In terms of range options, Itsu comes out on top as close to half of their menu includes SMASH-approved options, as does almost a third of both Subway and Pret’s menus. But too often we see examples where better-for-you options like salads, fruit, soup and wraps are priced at up to 7x more per calorie than, say, a highly calorific sandwich or a foot long sub.

Following innovation and reformulation over time, the likes of KFC and McDonalds also feature with a decent line up of credible healthier options and we believe should start to get more credit for these, albeit of course there is much more work to do (not least to replace fries as the go-to side of choice) and it’s important that they now start promoting these options as they do with their core ranges in order to drive volume, lower input costs, improve value scores and so sustain these on their menus.    

Healthier is all too often more expensive, but it isn’t always the fault of the brand. The innovation, reformulation, and development costs that go into creating healthier options drive up cost, on what starts life as a low volume product.  

The ambition is that we, SMASH, can help these brands prove that healthier food sells - by both signposting healthier options in a consistent way and then driving volumes with test and learn discounts and epic marketing campaigns to build velocity and so bring longer term costs down. The engagement data we can derive from SMASH can help to provide evidence to brands to help them with their range decisions – to increase menu share for healthier options.

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska


Chief SMASHer

Hey, I’m Chris (aka Chief SMASHer). I founded SMASH with one big ambition - to make better balanced food easier to find, cheaper and more accessible for the 9 million 13-24 year olds in the UK. ‍ Having spent a huge part of my career in the world’s biggest retailers and food outlets (being MD at ASK Italian, ex Boots and pioneering KFC’s infamous Colonel’s Club), I decided it was time to up my game and change the system for the better, supporting young people in making the better food choices cheaper and providing retailers with a wave of demand to encourage innovation in better foods, powered by gen Z! ‍ SMASH - Save Money. Stay Healthy. Make a difference.

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