Food pricing strategies and marketing communication are powerful tools for influencing consumer food purchase decisions, alongside more subtle forms of marketing, such as packaging design and the layout of the eating environment. Marketing of unhealthy foods and sugary soft drinks has been blamed repeatedly for contributing to rising obesity rates, but there may be promising opportunities for food manufacturers and retailers to market healthy alternatives that are also good for business.
Dr Pierre Chandon, professor of marketing at the French graduate school of business INSEAD, and Dr Brian Wansink, co-director of the Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition, claim that food marketers could use some of the same techniques used to encourage consumption of calorie-dense foods to encourage consumption of more nutritionally balanced choices.
"People generally want food that tastes good while being affordable, varied, convenient and healthy — roughly in that order,” said Wansink. “Our research suggests that consumption of healthy and unhealthy food respond to the same marketing tactics, particularly price reduction.”
Indeed, price was found to be the most important factor in influencing consumer behaviour. The researchers reviewed previous studies suggesting that lower prices for sugary and fatty foods were directly correlated with higher consumption – and they also found that higher prices for these foods were correlated with lower consumption. They also gave examples of positive pricing initiatives that have already been trialled with healthy foods, like providing quantity discounts and money-off vouchers for salads and fruits.
“In this study we present food marketers with a 'win-win' situation in which they can turn the tables, compel consumers to eat healthier foods, and maintain profitability. For example, marketers can steer consumers away from high-calorie sugary drinks by offering meal discounts if a person buys a diet drink — or by offering a healthy habit loyalty card when consumers opt for milk, juice or water instead of sugary drinks. When all sides win, no one resists," Wansink said.
The researchers suggested that increased marketing message exposure, more attractive packaging, character branding and co-branding with other popular foods may be other tactics that could help increase consumption of healthy foods.
The full study is available as a PDF by clicking here.