A salad by any other name has far less appeal to a diet-conscious consumer, according to an upcoming report.
Dieters’ perceptions of a food’s healthfulness and taste largely depend on how it is labeled rather than on its nutrition facts, according to "The Impact of Product Name on Dieters’ and Nondieters’ Food Evaluations and Consumption" in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Consequently, if “a food is identified by a relative unhealthy name (e.g., pasta),” those who are trying to lose weight will consider it less tasty and less healthful than their counterparts who are not on a diet. The identical food item assigned to the “salad” category would not suffer the same decline in regard by dieters. In fact, some salads are loaded with pasta and topped with fat-laden dressings, but dieters still feel they are making a good food choice when selecting a salad rather than a pasta dish from a restaurant’s menu options.
Consumers act on their perceptions, which is why those in the food business have learned to label their candies “fruit chews,” their sugar-sweetened drinks “flavored water,” while their milkshakes are touted as “smoothies” (or "lattes," in the case of the whipped cream loaded concoctions sold by Starbucks).
The studies show that people who consider themselves health-conscious are paying more attention to names than facts. “What is interesting is that dieters, who try to eat healthy and care about what they eat, fell into these ‘naming traps’ more than non-dieters who really don’t care about healthy eating,” according to Dr. Caglar Irmak, the head of the study.
The Corn Refiners Association is fighting a battle to get consumers to look at facts rather than the association made by names. Many people think high fructose corn syrup should be avoided more than other sugars. In fact, some products, like Hunt’s ketchup, have “no high fructose corn syrup” emblazoned on their labels.
Hunt’s touts its “100% natural” products as responsive to what consumers want, “food items that are natural or made with ingredients they might have at home.” So Hunt's came up with “ketchup that is 100% natural, with 0% high fructose corn syrup.” That doesn’t mean it is free of sugar, though. As the company explains, “Hunt's simply uses sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup in its 100% Natural Ketchup. The recipe remains simple, with common ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, garlic and other seasonings and spices.” The connotation here is that table sugar is simpler, more natural, and, by implication, better for you than high fructose corn syrup.
Understandably, that spin on high fructose corn syrup does not make the Corn Refiners Association happy. They insist that high fructose corn syrup is a natural product and affects the body no differently than table sugar does. In fact, scientific findings do back this view, if the Mayo Clinic is to be believed. The CRA draws on such findings in its attempt to change people’s perception through extensive marketing. It has a dedicated site, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel for its commercials.
But facts don’t have the instant emotional trigger that names do, which is why CRA has been trying to get the name changed to "corn sugar" because “independent research demonstrates that the current labeling is confusing to American consumers” who mistakenly believe that there is a greater concentration of fructose in the corn product than in table sugar.
— Ariella Brown is a writer, editor, Web content developer, and social media coordinator.
The CMO Site is an executive social network that provides CMOs and other marketing executives from the world’s leading organizations with a real-time, online venue where they can convene to discuss how they're delivering on the most critical marketing priorities. Join us!