Don’t for one second think that you can ever let your guard down when food shopping, especially if you believe you know your way around healthy eating.
It’s Organic, It’s Better
Cornell University researchers recently headed over to a shopping mall in Ithaca, New York, and had 115 people compare the quality of three pairs of products: two cookies, two yogurts, and two helpings of potato chips. One of each pair was marked “organic,” the other “regular.”
What happened? The foods labeled “organic” were estimated to have significantly fewer calories, seem more appetizing, taste lower in fat and to be more nutritious. The only regular food that came out ahead in one category were the cookies, who were judged to taste better than their organic counterparts.
Another win for organic food? Eh, well, no, because both items in each pair were organic and identical.
Calorie Label Colours
Another Cornell researcher (they sure were busy the last few weeks) asked university students to imagine that they were hungry and see a candy bar while waiting their turn at a supermarket checkout. Then he showed them an image of a candy bar with either a red or a green calorie label, that were identical except for the color.
When asked how healthy they thought the candy bar was and how many calories it contained, the students reliably thought that the bar with the green label was better on both accounts.
The experiment was then repeated online, with the difference that the labels this time were either green or white and participants were also asked how important healthy eating was to them.
One would think that the more interested people are in healthy eating, the more consciously they would read labels and not, like the students above, get sidetracked by something as irrelevant as the label’s color.
Unfortunately it turned out the exact other way: the more important healthy eating was to participants, the less healthful they thought the white-labeled bar, while the same effect did not happen with the green-labeled bar.
Be Eternally Vigilant
In the first experiment, the “organic” label worked best on people who normally don’t read nutritional labels. Which I reckon the health-conscious people from the second regularly do. Yet just switching a nutritional label’s color worked on them.
The take home message is: never, ever think that (food) advertising doesn’t work on you. You may be aware of the more obvious methods, but for every one of those, there likely is one you never imagined could influence your shopping choices.
Picture courtesy of Leon Brooks.