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Study weighs value vs. health goals in consumer mindset

By Maggie Hennessy , 08-Jan-2014

"Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots,” said study co-author Kelly Haws, of the potential for revamping the 'supersize' concept.
"Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots,” said study co-author Kelly Haws, of the potential for revamping the 'supersize' concept.

It’s been 10 years since McDonald’s scrapped the ‘supersize’ menu from its restaurants, but the value concept of getting more food for the same amount of money remains an effective business tool for the food industry, and tends to have negative implications for consumer health.

Supersized products appeal to consumers from a value standpoint, as ordering a larger size of the same product results in a per-unit savings. But such pricing strategies lead to increased purchase and consumption and can lead to decreased consumer emphasis on health goals, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing.

The study, titled “When Value Trumps Health in a Supersized World,” aims to facilitate understanding of consumer decisions when it comes to the simultaneous pursuit of multiple goals and, more specifically, those that lie at the intersection of health and finance.

“We know the health implications of a giant latte or supersized fries, so a little justification through feeling financially savvy and saving money makes us feel better about our decision and increases consumption,” said study co-author and Vanderbilt University marketing researcher Kelly L. Haws.

But the study by Haws and Karen Winterich, assistant professor of marketing at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, found that consumers may be just as willing to buy healthy food if they feel they’re still getting a deal. For example, applying the economic “supersizing” mindset to healthier foods could help spur healthier decision making.

“One of the studies in our research paper shows similar ‘supersizing’ effects happening with the purchase of baby carrots. Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots,” said Haws.

The research also found that although supersized pricing can have a powerful effect on purchase behavior, providing even simple health cues—such as signs—can mitigate the effects of the decreased focus on health. 

Winterich and Haws say American consumers would be wise to follow the lead of French consumers if they wish to indulge in high-calorie foods. “That is, consumers may eat indulgent foods as the French are perceived to do, yet if they do so in small quantities, they should avoid excessive weight gain,” Haws said.

Source: the Journal of Marketing
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.11.0261
“When Value Trumps Health in a Supersized World”
Authors: Kelly L. Haws, Karen Page Winterich

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