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Push Veggies With Tasty Language

Problem Area: 

Problem

People think "healthy" foods are depriving and bland, and so avoid them.

Solution

Describing healthy food with indulgent and fun language leads people to eat more of it.

Details

In a previous study, Stanford SPARQ researcher Brad Turnwald and colleagues found that restaurants use less appealing language to describe "healthy" menu items than to describe standard menu items. As a result, people likely avoid the healthy menu items.

And so the researchers asked: What would happen if restaurants flipped the script and used more attractive language to describe healthy foods?

To answer this question, Turnwald's team conducted an experiment in a college cafeteria that serves about 600 diners during lunch. Each day, they named the main vegetable dish in one of three ways:

  • Healthy Label: Low-sodium Carrots or Lighter-choice Beets
  • Indulgent Label: Twisted-citrus Glazed Carrots or Tangy Lime-seasoned Beets
  • Basic Label: Carrots or Beets

The researchers then secretly measured how many diners chose the vegetable and the total weight of the vegetable that diners consumed. They found that 41 percent more diners served themselves the main vegetable when it had an indulgent label than when it had a healthy label, and 25 percent more diners choose the indulgently labeled vegetable than the basically labeled vegetable. These findings suggest that labeling vegetables in tasty and exciting ways can lead to more people eating them.

Why This Works

People typically assume that nutritious foods do not taste as good as unhealthy foods. Food marketers confirm this assumption when they use bland, boring, and depriving language to describe healthy food. But when healthy foods have sensual, fun, and indulgent descriptors, people give them a try, and many learn that they actually like eating healthily.

When This Works Best

This technique works best in restaurants and dining settings where nutritious foods have less appealing names and descriptions than do unhealthy foods. It also works particularly well for people who value taste more than health when choosing what to eat — which is most people.

Try It Yourself

SPARQTools: Edgy Veggies

Original Studies

Turnwald, B. P., Boles, D. Z., & Crum, A. J. (2017). Association between indulgent descriptions and vegetable consumption: Twisted carrots and dynamite beets. Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, 77(8), 1216-1218.

Turnwald, B.P., Jurafsky, D., Conner, A., & Crum, A.J. (2017). Reading between the menu lines: Are restaurants' descriptions of "healthy" foods unappealing? Health Psychology, 36 (11), 1034-1037.

In the Media

Quartz: There's an easy marketing trick to get people to eat more vegetables

CNN: A veggie by any other name may actually get eaten

Stanford News: Decadent-sounding descriptions could lead to higher consumption of vegetables, Stanford research finds

Credits

Photo via umami/flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0