Making vegetables seem sexy, rather than healthy, actually makes them sell better, a team of researchers has found.
In a study conducted at Stanford University, researchers found that using “indulgent, exciting, and delicious descriptors” in the campus cafeteria (which serves undergrads, graduate students, and staff alike) was directly correlated with higher vegetable consumption—and might even lead to greater satisfaction after the meal.
During the fall 2016 semester at Stanford, the cafeteria served one featured vegetable with four different labels: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive, or indulgent. Not surprisingly, the indulgent labels—with words like “sizzlin’,” “slow-roasted,” “rich,” “buttery,” and “caramelized”—moved the most vegetables, both in terms of selection and actual consumption.
Basic labels simply identified the vegetable, healthy restrictive labels used words like “reduced sodium” and “lighter choice,” while “vitamin-rich” and “nutritious” were used as healthy positive labels. There was no significant difference in the amount of vegetables sold during days of healthy restrictive, healthy positive, or basic labeling — but when vegetables were labeled indulgently, they sold 25 percent better than basic vegetables, 41 percent better than healthy restrictive, and 35 percent better than healthy positive.
During the entire experiment, there was no difference in the actual method of preparation for the vegetables, and informed consent was even waived by the university review board, meaning that students were completely unaware that their eating habits were being observed.
Overall, the study essentially confirms what plenty of marketing agencies know about sales—it’s all in the pitch.
"We think that the indulgent labeling aligns more with people's motivations," Brad Turnwald, a doctoral psychology student at Stanford and the lead paper’s lead author, told CNN. "That they're looking for something tasty when they want to eat. And that's why it works."
If you think about it, it’s not just vegetables that benefit from a dose of good vocabulary. Who among us wouldn’t prefer “oven-roasted chicken, stuffed with lemon and herbs” over “lean and low-sodium baked chicken?” It’s hard to imagine people lining up to eat the latter, which is something much of the food industry has already figured out. Here’s hoping this study ushers in the end of menu descriptors like “heart-healthy” and “low-cholesterol”—no one wants to hear it. Bring on the searing and the sizzling.