safefood research reveals how consumers make food choices outside the home

Tuesday 19 November, 2013: New research from safefood reveals some interesting facts around how consumers make choices about food outside the home. The reports, launched at today’s All-island Obesity Action Forum, will inform the recently launched childhood obesity campaign. 

The first of these reports, Do you have a kids menu? investigated the availability of healthy food options in restaurants and other caterers on the island of Ireland. The report summarises the feedback from 180i caterers, 192ii parents and 90 children. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sausages, beef burgers and chicken nuggets are the top three most widely available main courses. Only 42% of eating establishments surveyed listed vegetables on any part of the children’s menu. The report finds that two thirds (64%) of caterers provide healthier options for kids but less than 27% actively promote these.

On a positive note, in the last year, one third of caterers reported that they made changes to their menu in light of growing concerns about children’s diets. The majority of caterers (79%) agree that they would provide healthy choices if the demand was greater.

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition at safefood said:

Consumer demand will ultimately dictate any changes to children’s menus. We would advise parents to ask for fruit and or vegetables with every kid’s meal and ask for water as a drink. Those little steps will really help. While caterers have started to introduce healthier options on menus, they need to make them more attractive to tempt children to choose them.”

Dr Ruth Price, Researcher at the University of Ulster highlighted:

“‘Time and convenience’ and the notion of a ‘treat’ were the main factors driving the parents’ decision to eat out. Both parents and children considered that the child’s food choice while eating-out is decided primarily by the child. Parents consider their children’s food choice decisions are heavily driven by the presentation and marketing of food.”

safefood’s second report Good days and bad days focuses on consumer behaviour when grocery shopping. In particular, the report looked at the health related habits of consumers in the island of Ireland.iii

The research found that women, those from higher socioeconomic groups and those with better nutrition knowledge, were more likely to buy healthy foods.

Dr. Moira Dean, lecturer in Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast and the lead researcher on the project said:

Consumers who bought healthier foods planned to buy fresh and healthy food, looked at food labels and were more willing to try new foods; but they still tried to take into account their family’s preferences.

However, shopping when stressed, tired or hungry reduced the likelihood of purchasing health foods. Many shoppers reported using a list to help them stick with their plan and avoid impulse purchases.

Based on the findings of this report, safefood’s key recommendations for consumers are to:

  • Plan ahead of shopping
  • Have a few easy recipes that you can stock up for and dish up regularly
  • It's harder to shop when you're hungry, stressed or tired. If possible try not to shop when feeling like this.
  • Avoid those food promotions which are for unhealthy foods
  • If you don't buy it, you won't stash it at home and eat it guiltily
  • Get label savvy, understand what you’re eating

The research reports Do you have a kids menu? and Good days and bad days are available to download from the safefood website:

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For further information please contact


Muireann Kirby 01 6690142 / 086 3710000

Rachel Ahearne 01 6690259 / 087 134 0390


i. Telephone interviews with caterers (n=180; 60 NI, 120 ROI) were conducted between November 2010 - January 2011 to assess the characteristics and practices of catering establishments and explore caterers’ attitudes towards healthier eating options for children.

ii. Parents focus groups (n=24; 8 NI, 16 ROI), consisting of 7 - 8 parents per group, were conducted between June - August 2011. Parents were recruited from a range of demographic (North/South, Urban/Rural) and socio-economic backgrounds. A semi-structured guide was used to facilitate the 60-90 minute discussion and ethical approval was obtained from the University of Ulster Research Ethics committee (UUREC).

iii. Survey based on 1,010 face-to-face interviews (NI=297; ROI=713) between October and December 2011.