When identical cookies are given to consumers under either an associated ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ brand message, the healthy ones win out as the more satisfying and better tasting, researchers have found.
The study, led by Dr Catherine Forestell from the College of William & Mary, USA, tested the taste preference and food consumption rates of 66 female consumers classified as either restrained (33) or unrestrained (33) eaters when presented with cookies branded either with healthy or unhealthy images and messages.
“How brand name products affect restrained eaters; i.e., those who cognitively restrict their intake of certain foods in order to maintain or control their weight is not clear,” said the researchers, writing in Food Quality and Preference.
“Given the apparent power that brands have on liking and consumption of foods in general … the goal of the present study was to extend this research to determine whether restrained eaters would differentially respond to brands that are typically associated with healthful versus unhealthful foods,” they said.
Forestell and her team reported that not only were foods accompanied by healthful messages rated as more satisfying better tasting by all of the consumers, but that those who were restrained eaters actually consumed more of the healthful product.
“Developing an understanding of the factors that moderate both food choice and food intake is important from both a health and marketing perspective,” said Forestell.
“Given that restrained, but not unrestrained eaters, consumed more of the healthful than the unhealthful brand it is possible that participants mistakenly assumed that the healthful brand was less caloric.”
“From a health perspective, the present study suggests that healthful brands may actually confuse individuals who are attempting to restrict their caloric intake,” the researchers said.
The 66 consumers were provided with in an ad libitum snack of cookies which was labelled with a brand typically associated with healthful snacks or a brand associated with unhealthful snacks.
Forestell and her team found that all participants rated the cookies with the healthful brand label as more satisfying and as having a better taste and flavour.
Furthermore, restrained eaters consumed more of the healthful brand than the unhealthful brand, while unrestrained eaters’ consumption did not differ, they said.
“Thus it appears that food-related beliefs do influence consumers’ intake, especially that of restrained eaters,” commented the researchers, who added that further research is warranted “in order to improve recommendations for healthful eating in a society facing an increased prevalence of overeating and obesity.”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.12.004
“The Effect of Brand Names on Flavor Perception and Consumption in Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters”
Authors: Kevin V. Cavanagh, Catherine A. Forestell