Healthy food sells and is good for business

Not only is healthy food good for your body and mind, it is also good for business, researchers at the University of Iowa reported after asking the booster club in Muscatine whether it would add healthy foods to its concession menu. It also asked the club whether it might consider improving the ingredients of popcorn, nachos and other big sellers.

Booster clubs across America directly support schools’ extra-curricular and athletic programs like choir and band. Ninety-thousand dollars are raised each year by the Muskie Boosters, which go towards athletics and other extra-curricular activities.

Clubs may be reluctant to consider altering concession sales, which have proven to be reliable generators of cash.

Kate Hansen a former president of the Muskie Boosters, said:

“I don’t think without [revenue from] booster clubs, especially with how schools are cutting things, how they’d be able to do it.”

The gamble paid off

However, introducing health food to their concession sales was a small risk that paid off for the Muskies. The researchers reported in the Journal of Public Health that the club earned stable sales and revenues with the addition of health food over one full season.

Healthy food also represented a tidy profit. Each varsity football game’s average sales increased from $6,599 in 2008 to $6,849 in 2009, a 4% increase. The healthy food addition boosted overall sales, making up 9.2% of concession sales.

The researchers carried out surveys with parents and students and found they were happy with the healthy food choices.

Team leader, Helena Laroche, said:

“This study is the first to evaluate the results on satisfaction and sales of making changes to concession-stand offerings in school settings. It provides preliminary evidence that altering offerings and adding healthy options can be done by working in concert with parent groups.”

“Furthermore, these modifications can provide reasonable revenue and profit margins without negative effects on customer satisfaction.”

More booster clubs adding health food option

So far, six more booster clubs in Iowa now include healthy food options in their concession menus, after following a how-to-guide Laroche wrote based on her Muscatine experience.

Laroche said “Booster groups have worried that healthier items wouldn’t sell, and it’s important for them to make money to support student activities. This shows it can be done.”

Eight healthy foods were offered in the Muskie Boosters menu:

  • String cheese
  • Trail mix
  • Pickles
  • Soft pretzels
  • Granola bars
  • Chicken sandwiches
  • Carrots and dip
  • Apples

The healthy options were added during Muscatine High’s 2009 fall season volleyball matches, swim meets and football games. Canola oil in the popcorn was substituted with coconut oil bars. The cheese in the nachos was also changed, thus eliminating their trans fat content.

Chicken sandwiches and soft pretzels accounted for 7.6% of all foods sold. The sale of other foods fluctuated, depending on the weather, product visibility and venue.

The authors reported that:

  • Trail mix and granola bars sold better indoors.
  • Carrots and dips had higher sales in outdoor settings when the weather was good.
  • Students liked the pickles.
  • “String cheese suffered from being tucked away in a refrigerator.”
  • Nobody noticed the different ingredients in the nachos and popcorn, which continued to sell well.

Add at least five healthy items

A team from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab analyzed the sales data. Brian Wansink, Cornell laboratory’s director, said:

“If you’re a concession-stand sponsor, and you want people to eat better, and you want to make more money, add at least five healthy items. There’s got to be a critical mass, and we find that five’s a very lucky number, and ten is even better.”

Although traditional concession foods – candy bars, pizza and hot dogs – continued selling well, Hansen noticed “a shift in people’s perception and attitudes about the new offerings.”

Hansen, who was President of the Muscatine booster club during the study, said:

“I think what it comes down to is people want to have choices. We still sell hot dogs, we still sell pizza, we still sell candy bars. But everything in life is about choices, and it’s important to put choices out there that meets everybody’s needs and wants, and more people, it seems, want to lead healthier lives.”