November 9, 1995
Web posted at: 2:20 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil
CHICAGO (CNN) -- Do you know what America's favorite dinner entree is? Here's a hint: it's not pasta, or even chicken.
Pre-packaged salads are hot, vegetarian entrees are on more restaurant menus and rotisserie chicken is challenging traditional fried. But even with all the hoopla over healthy diets and trendy foods today, America's favorite meal hasn't changed much over the years. It's the simple ham sandwich.
Harry Balzar with The NPD Group says the latest numbers put the ham sandwich as number one, followed by pizza at number two. "Ten years from now, the ham sandwich will be in the top four to five foods, because we are slow to change," Balzar said.
And what's the fastest growing food in terms of frequency of consumption? It's not sushi or even salad. It's the all-American ground beef burger, in all its variations.
Five years ago, McDonald's introduced a lower fat burger, the McLean burger. The McLean deluxe has just 12 grams of fat, compared with a Big Mac with 28, but the diet burger hasn't made much of dent in sales. "The trend is for ... more of those lower-fat options," said McDonald's Lynn Dugan. "I can tell you that people still want the burgers and the french fries."
Meanwhile, say "fat free" or "reduced fat" in the baked good business and customers will stand in line to buy the stuff. Stores couldn't keep Snackwells devils food cookie cakes on the shelves.
At Entenmann's, the company that says it started the whole thing, low-fat and fat-free products aren't just a silly sideline -- they're serious business. "It's a third of our business. We'll sell almost 100 million reduced fat or fat-free cakes this year," said Steve Bryan of Entenmann's.
So what's going on here? Why do we reject low fat one minute and crave it the next? Nancy Schwartz with The American Dietetic Association said there's a lot of confusion. (256K AIFF sound or 256K WAV sound)
People who were questioned about it on the streets of Chicago had mixed feelings, too. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)
However, one thing everyone seemed to agree on is that the food marketplace, from grocery store to gourmet restaurant, is overflowing with more choices than ever before. It's a sign that the food industry is responding to consumer demand, even if that demand is driven by consumer confusion.
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