In a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from Stanford University have shown what restauranteurs have known for years- describe your dishes in an indulgent manner and patrons will be enticed to buy.
Researchers performed the study at the University’s cafeteria, with a total of 27,933 diners (undergraduate students, graduate students, and staff) over the 2016 autumn academic calendar.
Each day, one featured vegetable dish was randomly labeled in one of four ways: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive, or indulgent. For example, butternut squash could be “butternut squash” (basic), “butternut squash with no added sugar” (healthy restrictive), “antioxidant-rich butternut squash” (healthy positive), or “twisted garlic-ginger butternut squash wedges” (indulgent). The kicker was that all meals looked and tasted the same and there was no difference in how they were served.
The researchers found that labeling the vegetables in an indulgent way significantly increased not only the selection of the vegetable, but the amount consumed as well. Vegetables labeled indulgently were chosen 25% (p=.04) more often than basic, 41% (p=.001) more often than healthy restrictive, and 35% (p=.01) more often than healthy positive. Similarly, indulgent labeling increased the amount consumed by 23% (p=.03) compared to basic, 33% (p=.004) compared to healthy restrictive, and 16% (NS) compared to healthy positive. There was no significant differences amongst basic, healthy restrictive and healthy positive groups for either outcome.
It’s seems a better strategy to speak of healthy foods in an indulgent manner, focusing on taste and flavors. Instead of “eat your zucchini,” you can try “who wants the slow-cooked garlicky heirloom zucchini with freshly chopped tarragon?”