The authors examine the question: "How [can] food marketers could continue to grow their profits without growing their customer’s body mass index (BMI)?" They provide an integrative review of marketing, consumer research, social science disciplines that rarely appear in health and medicine publications on the topics of food, obesity and health (269 references!). It is a welcomed piece to start removing the blinders, or changing the frame, that too many people bring to the subject.
They state the case clearly:
"Food marketers influence the volume of food consumption through four basic mechanisms that vary in their conspicuousness. 1) The short- and long-term price of food, as well as the type of pricing (e.g., a straight price cut or quantity discount), can influence how much people purchase and eventually consume.Pricing efforts are generally conspicuous and lead to deliberate decisions. 2) Marketing communications, including advertising, promotion, branding, nutrition, and health claims, can influence a consumer’s expectations of the sensory and nonsensory benefits of the food.Marketing communications comprise the most recognized form of influence and the one most closely scrutinized by marketing and nonmarketing researchers. The influence of marketing communication can sometimes be as conspicuous as price changes, but consumers are not always aware of some of the newest forms of marketing communication (e.g., “advergaming,” package design, or social media activities) and, even when they are aware of the persuasive intent behind these tools, they may not realize that their consumption decisions are being influenced. 3) The product itself, including its quality (composition, sensory properties, calorie density, and variety) and quantity (packaging and serving sizes) also influence in a variety of ways how much of the product consumers eat. This area has been frequently researched as marketing communication. 4) The eating environment, including the availability, salience, and convenience of food, can be altered by marketers. Compared to the breadth of the domain, this is the least frequently studied area, yet it is the one most likely to be driven by automatic, visceral effects outside the awareness and volitional control of consumers." (p.572).
This review should be required reading for anyone who is working on obesity prevention and thinking about public health interventions. Their insights into how food marketers can improve their financial and social bottom-lines may also lead to some interesting collaborative opportunities. For example,
- Provide quantity discounts through bulk packaging of fruits and vegetables like at membership warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club and Costco.
- Offer “free quantity” promotions for healthy food (e.g., larger packs, buy-one-get-one-free, etc.).
- Give coupons or discounts on fruit and vegetables, such as $1 off salads; buy salad get a free small fry; buy one salad get another half off.
- Increase healthy eating in the media; in movies and TV shows portray characters eating healthily, especially in media geared towards children.
- Co-brand healthy items with popular brands (that may not necessarily be known for being healthy).
- Co-brand and add licensed characters onto produce packaging.
- Advertise produce websites on fruit stickers.
- Develop foods that contain textures, ingredients, and nutrients that accelerate satiation (so that people stop eating faster) but extend satiety.
- Use multi-sensory displays to help people imagine what it will feel like to eat aromatic, soft, complex, visually appealing fruits. For example, pipe in the smell of fruit to a supermarket produce section.
- Add a smaller size on the menu. Even if nobody chooses it, it will make other sizes look bigger and will lead people to choosing smaller sizes.
- Restaurants should display fruits and vegetables or other healthy options near the entrance and slice and package them in an appealing way.
Thanks to Nutrition Reviews for making a free pdf of the article available to all of us.
Further Reading: I have a number of posts about social marketing and obesity prevention.
Note: Brain Wansink will be a plenary speaker at the World Social Marketing Conference in Toronto, 21-23 April 2013.