The war is officially on for food marketing! Up until now companies have been able to market their products with little resistance or counter-marketing from the public, government and various health focused organizations. A few studies linking food advertising to obesity exist but for the most part the results were not widely disseminated to the general public, which has been fairly apathetic to the issue.
Look out world, the tides are turning starting with the video clip released by the Centre for Science in the Public Interests against soft drinks! Hopefully it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We thought we would do our part by raising awareness of food marketing techniques. It can be argued that obesity is not a weakness but rather a “normal” response to the pro-food environment food marketers have created.
Hopefully, raising awareness of the “4Ps” food marketers use when trying to encourage consumers to eat (or overeat) their products can promote healthy buyer habits and consumption.
Food marketers can manipulate the “4Ps” to maximize profits (1). We discussed Pricing and Promotion in Part 1 last week and now we look at the effects of Product and Placement in Part 2.
At first glance one might think that product development rests with the food scientists and nutritionists, and that it would then be up to the food marketers to promote the product to the best of their ability; unfortunately, this is not the case (1). With respect to product development there are two primary areas that can impact consumption: 1) Food Quality and 2) Food Quantity.
Perceived Food Quality: Sensory perceptions can effect our estimate of product quality. All of our senses are involved in regulating food consumption. Taste is obviously important and inherently people tend to prefer foods that have more sugar, fat and salt (2). Unfortunately, we don’t decrease our portion size to off-set the increased calories (3). On the other hand, vitamins are “taste neutral” which means they can easily be added to unhealthy foods to give the impression of improved nutritional quality without negatively impacting the taste (1).
The colours of foods can also influence the perceived sweetness (4) and, therefore, purchasing and consumption. Not surprisingly, the smell of foods can significantly impact our desire for a food. Finally, increasing variety (fruit salad vs a whole fruit) can increase consumption by decreasing monotony and our sensory specific satiety (5). Food marketers are smart and know that the more sensory cues they can stimulate the tastier the food will seem and the more we will eat!
Food Quantity: Package weights and serving sizes are included on most food packaging; however, there are many other factors which have a (possibly greater) effect on what we think is an appropriate amount to eat. Simply put, packaging, portion sizes and, consequently, consumption have been steadily increasing (6).
Increasing the amount of food is relatively low cost for a company as the costs for other expenses are fixed regardless of portion size (rent of the space, advertising, staffing etc.). This means they can improve the customers perception of value by decreasing the cost per amount of food. Recently, companies have realized that increasing the portion size can make them money in another way.
Having the larger portion sizes as the norm allows them to charge a premium for small sizes (100 Calorie foods anyone?) that restrict how much people will eat. This way they can target both the group that wants lots of food for their money and those that want less food for their money. Added to this is the fact that we are not good at estimating changes in portion sizes and tend to underestimate increases in package and portion sizes (7).
Despite the suggested serving sizes, people tend to use the package size, pictures on the packaging, amounts that others are eating, and labeling such as using the word “small” as cues for the appropriate serving size (1).
Food is available almost everywhere now and visibility alone can increase energy intake. For example, food that is placed in opaque containers and away from the table is consumed more slowly (8). The shape and size of the serving containers also alters food consumption. Bigger dishes and short/wide glasses increase portion sizes (9). Increasing the saliency (visibility) of foods can also impact consumption as can the convenience of the omnipresent “combo” meal (1).
Finally, the ambience of the store or restaurant can impact consumption. Air conditioning and cooler temperatures can increase food intakes as can dim lights, appetizing odors and soft music all of which encourage people to linger and eat more (1).
No Baloney’s advice? To rally against the sneaky product tricks, it all comes down to reading the label and ingredient list. Don’t be fooled by the package size – always read the serving size that the nutrition information is based on. Try to ignore the company’s definition of small, medium and large, and look for actual weight and volume. A small at one place may be a large somewhere else.
Same goes for product quality: read the entire nutrition label and judge the whole food. Don’t get suckered into the “we added vitamins to our sugar water so it’s healthy” trap. Know that product placement and the environment in which you are purchasing the foods has been carefully designed to get you to buy/eat as much as possible. At home keep foods, especially those “treats” that are high in calories out of sight and hopefully out of mind. Try not to stockpile food even if it is on sale as that tends to increase consumption.
- Chandon P, Wansink B. Does food marketing need to make us fat? A review and solutions. Nutr Rev 2012; 70:571-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00518.x.
- Sørensen LB, Møller P, Flint A, Martens M, Raben A. Effect of sensory perception of foods on appetite and food intake: a review of studies on humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003; 27:1152-66.
- Rolls BJ, Morris EL, Roe LS. Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2002; 76:1207-13.
- Auvray M, Spence C. The multisensory perception of flavor.Conscious Cogn 2008; 17:1016-31.
- Remick AK, Polivy J, Pliner P. Internal and external moderators of the effect of variety on food intake. Psychol Bull 2009; 135:434-51.
- Geier AB, Rozin P, Doros G. Unit bias. A new heuristic that helps explain the effect of portion size on food intake. Psychol Sci 2006; 17:521-5.
- Chandon P, Ordabayerva N. Supersize in one dimension, downsize in three dimensions: effects of spatial dimensionality on size perceptions and preferences. J Mark Res 2009; 46:739-53.
- Painter JE, Wansink B, Hieggelke JB. How visibility and convenience influence candy consumption. Appetite 2002 ; 38:237-8.
- Raghubir P, Krishna A. Vital dimensions in volume perception: can the eye fool the stomach? J Mark Res 1990; 36:313-26.