Gill Stannard

Friday, May 01, 2009

Do you want fries with that?

Some interesting research is afoot. A yet to be published paper examines how healthy choices on a menu actually increase our likelihood of choosing unhealthy items.

University of Chicago researchers have released the following teaser:
In a series of four studies, the researchers examined how consumers’ food choices differed when a healthy item was included in a set compared to when it was not available. The study results showed that the mere presence of a healthy item vicariously fulfills health-related eating goals, drives attention to the least-healthy choice, and provides people with license to indulge in tempting foods. They also high levels of self-control.
Journal of Consumer Research press release

The take home message from the studies is that is you offer ‘healthy’ options such as a salad on a menu with unhealthy choices like fries, more people are likely to order the fries than when the menu doesn’t have salad as an option. And no, they aren’t necessarily ordering the salad as well in an attempt to counteract the negative effects.

With the full analysis not available until October it is hard to tell the statistical significance of the reported 23% increase in those who opted for a side order of fries with a meal, when there was also a salad choice present on the menu. However the marketing community is have a field day, making the most of exploiting the perceived psychological weakness illuminated by the press release alone.

It may explain why fast food chains are smiling all the way to the bank with their “healthy options” meals.

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