By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Supermarket Dietitians, food companies and even parents spend a lot of time encouraging the consumption of nutritious foods for better health but are often disappointed by the results of these efforts. From campaigns to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables to the promotion of more whole grains, both what we say about healthier foods and who we say it to are important.
In his book, Marketing Nutrition, Dr. Brian Wansink states that our efforts are best focused on those individuals who are most likely to be influenced or those most likely to influence others. For example, research consistently shows that “good cooks” are the nutritional gatekeepers of their homes and determine 72 percent of their family’s food intake. These individuals are the ones who shop for the food and prepare the meals for their family. If we can direct messaging regarding the consumption of more fruits and vegetables to those individuals for example, we would see a greater result than focusing on the entire population.
Wansink also cautions dietitians to understand taste first, then nutrition. Nutrition education will be helpful only when the messages are relevant to one’s personal circumstances and appeal to one’s personal taste. His research reveals that tastes, however, can be subtly influenced by the way we label and describe foods. A six-week study at the University of Illinois by Wansink and colleagues found that descriptive labeling of certain healthier foods increased their sales by 27% and individuals perceived those foods as more appealing and tastier.
This study was supported by recent research at Stanford University in California where they tested whether using indulgent descriptive words and phrases would increase vegetable consumption. They found that describing vegetables with indulgent labels increased consumption by 25% compared to the basic description and 41% over the healthy-restrictive labels.
Green beans, for example, were labeled basic as ‘green beans’, ‘light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots’ (healthy restrictive), ‘healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots’ (healthy positive) or ‘sweet sizzlin green beans and crispy shallots’ (indulgent). All were prepared in the same way, yet the indulgent label significantly increased sales.
Knowing this information, you may want to take a look around your stores and see if there are areas (prepared foods, produce) where you could provide more appealing descriptors on signage. And remember that targeting healthy eating programs at nutritional gatekeepers may provide the most benefit – “when you change the habits of the cook, you will directly or indirectly change the eating habits of the family”.
Bradley P. Turnwald, Danielle Z. Boles, Alia J. Crum. Association Between Indulgent
Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1637
Wansink, Brian. (2005). Marketing Nutrition, Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity University of Illinois Press