After posting calorie counts, Bridgehead sees customers changing their orders

Ottawa's Bridgehead coffee chain is noticing some of its customers are making different decisions about what they want to buy now that calorie counts are posted in-store.

Ottawa coffee franchise recently opened its 20th store, compelling it to post calories

The calorie counts for baked goods at Bridgehead coffee shops now publicly display calorie counts. (Arash Randjbar)

Ottawa's Bridgehead coffee chain is noticing some of its customers are making different decisions at the counter about what they want to buy now that calorie counts are posted.

The popular local franchise recently hit 20 stores, which means it's now required to post the calories of its menu items, according to a new provincial law passed earlier this year.

Tracey Clark is the CEO of Bridgehead. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
While Bridgehead CEO Tracey Clark doesn't think that calories are necessarily the best indication of the healthiness of food or drinks, she told All In A Day's Alan Neal that "it is the law, and thou shalt comply."

So the company is using new software in an attempt to accurately show how many calories are in its muffins, sandwiches, pastries, snacks and hot and cold drinks. Ingredients are entered and the count is calculated according to a database.

700-calorie carrot cake

Clark says the counts on some items came as a bit of an eye-opener. A piece of carrot cake, for example, initially weighed in at 700 calories.

"It was a bit of a surprise, for sure," said Clark. "Because we don't think about dessert calories all that much. And you kind of know, OK, it's dessert, it's the extra calories in your day. But yeah, it was a bit larger than we thought."

After another analysis, the carrot cake calorie-count came in closer to 600.

Despite the calorie-sticker shock, sales have stayed stable. 

"Rock solid baby!" laughed Clark, who figures that when people want dessert, they want dessert. 

However, customers are shifting some of their other choices.

Take, for example, the daily muffin purchase that many customers make. Lately, more are choosing the vegan muffin "that doesn't have buttermilk or eggs the way that our other muffins do," said Clark.

"And we think that's probably the calorie count."

Meanwhile, the chocolate quinoa loaf at 280 calories "seems to have some mojo" — it's one of the lowest-calorie treats —  while the similarly low-cal ginger cookie is creeping up to the 420-calorie chocolate chip cookie in popularity, according to Clark.

Bridgehead's carrot-cake calories came in higher than expected, but sales of the dessert have not dropped. (Arash Randjbar)

Getting the kitchen involved

Prior to the new calorie-posting rules,nutritional information was collected and presented by Bridgehead's marketing department. But now the kitchen team oversees that process.

"We've now just moved that responsibility in our company for calculating nutritional info to the kitchen team," Clark said, making the recipe developers more cognizant of calorie count of items. 

"So they can actually build that into the development process to be thinking about either the portion size or the formulation of the recipe to make sure that it is going to have its best foot forward when it's on the menu."