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September 28, 2012

Satiety claims on food: consumers expect no magic bullet to weight loss

What would you think when you read a claim such as 'increases fullness''or 'keeps you going between meals' on your favourite box of cereals? Would you simply expect an enhanced feeling of fullness after breakfast or do you think that after repeated consumption it will help you lose weight?

Fictional package with satiety claim
In Europe, satiety claims on food packages are strictly regulated. Before a claim can be put on a package, evidence to substantiate the claim needs to be submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA has two key criteria that have to be met before approval: (1) any claim should not go beyond the demonstrated evidence, and (2) the average consumer must be able to understand the effects expressed in the claim.

But does the 'average' consumer understand a satiety claim? Research on this question is limited. Satiety experts, however, fear overinterpretation of satiety claims, in the sense that consumers infer more health benefits from claims than promised. Some even worry for the 'magic bullet effect' in that consumers expect to lose weight, without any other personal efforts such as restricting calories or exercising.

Together with Ellen van Kleef, David Mela, Toine Hulshof and Hans van Trijp, I conducted a study in which 1504 consumers from Italy, UK, France and Germany were questioned about the meaning of satiety claims. Results of this study are published in the journal 'Appetite'. The paper is called 'Consumer understanding, interpretation and perceived levels of personal responsibility in relation to satiety-related claims'.

We discovered that most consumers very well understand satiety claims and stay close to their literal meaning. There was one exception. Consumers who tend to chronically restrict their eating to avoid becoming fat (the so-called restrained eaters), expected more benefits than actually stated in the claim. 

For various claims, we asked consumers whether they expected that the product will do the work for them or they themselves have to put in some personal efforts as well. The answer depended on the type of claim. 'Feeling full for a longer time' is something that consumers expect a product to deliver. In contrast, consumers realize that losing weight is something that a product cannot do for them. Most consumers know that personal sacrifices are required, with or without a little help of a satiety enhancing food. 


This is a guest post, written by Els Bilman (PhD student).

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Els M. Bilman, Ellen van Kleef, David J. Mela, Toine Hulshof, & Hans C.M. van Trijp (2012). Consumer understanding, interpretation and perceived levels of personal responsibility in relation to satiety-related claims Appetite DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.07.010

September 18, 2012

BNR Nieuwsradio - Interview over marketing technieken om kinderen meer groente te laten eten

Ouders weten dat het lastig is om kinderen te motiveren om meer groenten en fruit te eten. Recent onderzoek van Brian Wansink en collega's laat zien dat het geven van 'catchy' namen aan groenten, zoals Power Brocolli, kinderen meer laat eten.

Vanochtend werd ik geinterviewd door Humberto Tan van BNR Nieuwsradio over het gebruik van marketingtechnieken om kinderen aan de groente te krijgen.

Luister hier het fragment:

BNR Nieuwsradio - Kinderen eten twee keer zoveel groente als het een coole naam heeft

September 14, 2012

A nudge that did not work: a virtual supermarket study among children to promote healthier snacking

Nudging consumers towards healthier food choices is still a hot topic. Drawing on psychology and behavioural economics, nudges are simple intervention strategies to move consumers towards healthier choices. This is done without banning foods products or telling consumers what to eat or avoid.

There are quite a few examples of successful nudges that help consumers in making better food choices. For instance, if consumers were asked to downsize their side dish, they ended up eating less in the study of Schwartz and colleagues. Still, there is a lot of debate about the usefulness of nudging. Consumers need more than a nudge, is the argument put forward by Lucy Handley. Lord Krebs recently argued in the Guardian that nudging alone will not convince people to do important things like lose weight. They both might be right, but at the same time I think it very useful to collect empirical evidence on the effectiveness of nudging.

Last Summer, we carried out a nudge study among 113 primary school children (10-12 years old) to encourage them to go for a healthier snack. We were inspired by the proven marketing tactic to offer a free gift with purchase (think of McDonald's Happy Meal). Typically, children are confronted with these free gifts on energy dense snacks. But would it be effective to use this classic marketing tactic to encourage children to switch to something healthier? That was the key question in our virtual supermarket study on which Charlotte Petri graduated last August.

We asked children to do some groceries in the virtual supermarket and select their own snack and drink near the checkout counter. This simulated supermarket of Wageningen University looks like a real supermarket with various shelves which display three-dimensional images of a wide range of products. The children could walk through the aisles of the store and put products in their virtual shopping cart.
Participant chooses a snack in the virtual supermarket
Participants did not see the same snack shelf, however. One third of all participants were confronted with a shelf poster that promised them a free gift (a tattoo) when they would buy a product with a star. These 'star products' were all healthier options as indicated by the Dutch Nutrition Centre. Another group were similarly promised the same gift, but now the star was attached to relative unhealthy snacks. The third group was the control group who did not get to see any promise of a free gift.

Snack shelf with poster promising free tatto gift with healthy 'Star' purchase
Most children were very enthusiastic about 'shopping' in the virtual supermarket ('Where can I download this game?'). Less than half of all children selected a healthy snack and drink. They were, however, not influenced by the promised free gift, regardless of the type of product to which the star was attached. It could be that the gift was not attractive enough, although a pre-test indicated differently. Another explanation is that children might have been too focused on the shopping task. In other words, they were too 'busy 'walking' through the shop, impressed by the new experience.

About one fifth of all participants was overweight. This percentage is similar to the percentage Dutch children who is overweight. Although overweight children more often tended to go for unhealthy snacks, they were not more sensitive to the free gift than normal-weight children. Children chose snacks based on familiarity and preference. Health was less important in their choice.

Overall, although the nudge was not effective in its present form, we learned a lot about the possibilities of the virtual supermarket for choice experiments with children. Have a look at the video, in which a participant walks through the supermarket and makes her snack choice.


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