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Theme Parks: Merlin looks into Feeding the kids on a day out


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In a independent survey conducted in January 2010 by GFK NOP for Merlin Entertainments (‘Merlin’), Europe’s leading visitor attraction operator, parents across the country with children under 16 and under were asked their views about feeding the kids, particularly on a ‘treat’ day out.   

While 94% of Mums across all age and social groups agreed that they were very careful about what the kids ate at home (a figure which only dropped to 89% when Dads were asked same question); they were much more relaxed when it came to what the family ate on an outing.  50% of parents said they didn’t really mind what the kids ate on the day out – particularly those in the 45-54 age group, mainly with older teens, where the figure rose to 67%.  Most relaxed were the Welsh at 76%.

When asked if they mainly let the kids eat fast and processed foods out of home but were much more careful when preparing meals themselves– again 60% agreed, particularly in London (79%).  

As for parents expectations of what attractions like theme parks should, and do offer, the results were interesting.  61% of parents overall expect to find a range of healthy options at a theme park (this expectation is much higher amongst parents of younger children- going up to 71% amongst 25-34 year olds).      This group are also much more likely to take at least some food with them on a day out (84%), particularly if they live in the North, Anglia or London.

However it appears that led by companies such as Merlin, the sector is rising to the challenge, and visitors have noticed.   62% of parents asked now believe theme parks do offer a good balanced choice of food.   This had been noticed particularly amongst the C2/C1 groups which tend to be more regular visitors to theme parks.


Merlin has 21attractions in the UK including Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, LEGOLAND, Thorpe Park and Warwick Castle.

Enhancing every aspect of the experience at one of our attractions is key to Merlin.  This includes the choice and quality of our food offer.   That is why the group continues to lead the way in the leisure industry with our focus on healthier choices, working with the FSA (Food Standards Agency) “early adopter’s scheme” and other health professionals, to provide balanced food choices across all 60 of our global sites.

Over the last 3 years Merlin has set the standard and now we are looking forward to further developing  this in 2010 by continuing to offer guests industry leading, quality and choice

In 2009 Merlin’s partnership with the FSA meant we were one of only 21 companies in the UK to trial and implement calorific information at point of choice on all food and drink products.  Our trial was at The Greedy Goblin in Chessington World of Adventures (see Goblin menu attached).

It’s All About Choice

Commenting Gary Henderson, Merlin Entertainments Group F&B Director, said: “Theme park visits are not every day events, they are a treat.  While families having a day of escapism in a theme park may want to take the day off from their balanced lifestyle, as market leader we believe that ultimately it’s all about the guest’s choice. “

“We are providing a good balance of healthier ‘better for you’ meals as well as the indulgent treats most people would associate with the leisure industry.

“We are proud of what we have achieved to date which has been recognised by the FSA/Government as making a pro-active contribution to their nutritional objectives (see attached letter).   Our food offer also continues to go from strength to strength, and we are rolling out our new initiatives across all our attractions around the world as quickly as possible.”

One of these is a heavy investment in staff training programmes which has resulted in improved operating standards and mystery guest ‘satisfaction scores’ which have increased by 5% vs. 2008. 

2010 plans:

·         Work with external nutritionists & suppliers to review our menus to clearly identify – and reduce – levels of salt, calories, sugar & fat

·         In every one of our 60 attractions globally at least one full service restaurant menu will provide full calorific detail on every item at point of choice (as per Greedy Goblin menu)

·         All items purchased in both our fast food and full service restaurants will be backed up with full allergy information (Our attraction web sites will publish this same data so guests can plan ahead)

·         In our biggest theme park site – Alton Towers) – we will be trialling a new recipe for our children’s burgers containing 5 ‘hidden’ vegetables

·         Warwick Castle will become a complete “non fried” children’s meal zone

·         Kids visiting Chessington World of Adventures will be able to eat free after 3pm

·         We will continue to grill or oven bake food rather than fry whenever possible

·         We will continue to ensure that all ingredients used are traceable and free from GM products

·         Our hygiene record is already seen as demonstratingthe  industry best practice (a fact which is verified by third part auditors Charnwood Hygiene Associates)

What worked well  – our successes in 2009

    * Sales of fruit pots such as grapes, strawberries and fruit salads have constantly performed in the top 10 selling lines in many sites i.e. Alton Towers
    * Our Piri Piri chicken burger has stolen 1st place in most popular items sold, with ribs and burgers taking 2nd and 3rd place
    * We have seen a 20% increase in sales of Annabel Karmel children meals vs 2008
    * We reduced prices vs 2008 on healthier choice foods
    * The unlimited pasta and salad stations in our new pizza restaurants were more popular and generated significantly more sales than expected and this concept will therefore be expanded in 2010

For further information:
Sally Ann Wilkinson, the firm, ++44 208 899 6110 / ++7774 415 3272,

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS GROUP is the leading name in location based, family entertainment, and has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years.  The world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin has 60 attractions and six hotels/ 2 holiday villages in 13 countries and across 3 continents.  The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 38 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and 14, 700 employees.  Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions – SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, The Merlin Entertainments London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Alton Towers Resort, Warwick Castle, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures, Underwater Adventures, Heidi Park and Earth Explorer.

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