Sensory satisfaction seduces people to choose smaller portions

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

'When choosing based on sensory pleasure, people tend to order smaller portions...' ©iStock/Stacey Newman
'When choosing based on sensory pleasure, people tend to order smaller portions...' ©iStock/Stacey Newman
It’s a case of quality over quantity as research suggests people will pay more for smaller portions if the food can successfully appeal to their sense of taste, smell and texture.

Multisensory imagery was used on test subjects who assessed portions on degree of sensory pleasure as opposed to hunger.

In contrast a selection based on health resulted in those choosing a smaller portion than the one they expected to enjoy most.

cake, pie, serving size, portion , Copyright maramorosz
Could a focus on the sensory quality of foods be an effective anti-obesity strategy? ©iStock/maramorosz

The researchers enquired as to how people can be encouraged to choose — and actually prefer — smaller food portions.

The rise of ‘supersizing’ has led governments and public health institutions to consider portion size limits and tighter food labelling.

Such efforts have had limited success to date as many consumers maintain eating habits to the pleasure of food marketers who typically extract higher profits​ from larger portions.

Five food findings

chocolate fudge cake
Let them eat (small portions of) cake. ©iStock

In the first of five experiments carried out at INSEAD Sorbonne Behavioural Lab in France, the authors asked French and US adults and children to use their five senses in imagining the pleasure of eating desserts. When asked to choose portions of brownies, they chose ones that were two sizes smaller than the portions chosen by children in a control condition.

In another experiment, the authors then described a chocolate cake as smelling of ‘roasted coffee’ with ‘aromas of honey and vanilla’ with an ‘aftertaste of blackberry’ to 190 adult Americans. When asked to choose, they consistently selected a smaller portion compared to those where the cake was described as ‘chocolate cake.’

Additionally, when subjects were told about the calorie and fat content of each cake portion, they choose a smaller portion, but only if it were cheaper (by around €1) compared to the multisensory condition.

The final study, which assessed how much subjects would enjoy either small or large portions of chocolate brownies found that both were enjoyed equally. This was eliminated by multisensory imagery, which made people better forecasters of their own future eating enjoyment.

“We show in our studies that marketing labels that emphasise the sensory quality of foods, change people's criterion of choice of portion sizes,”​ said Dr Yann Cornil, assistant professor of Marketing, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia in Canada.

“When choosing based on sensory pleasure, people tend to order smaller portions, and are willing to pay at least as much for these smaller portions than for larger portions.”

”This means that there are opportunities for the food industry to move toward more qualitative business models that focus more on the sensory quality of foods, and less on the quantity at lowest cost. The food industry could therefore grow without contributing to the obesity crisis.”

‘Stop caricaturing eating enjoyment’

Along with co-study author Dr Pierre Chandon, L’Or´eal chaired professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity, INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France, the researchers pointed out that the current obesity epidemic is largely driven by ever-increasing food portion sizes.

“Public policy and related research efforts have tended to focus on what people chose to eat rather than how much they choose to eat,” ​the study noted.

“Our findings suggest that it is time to stop caricaturing eating enjoyment as the simple fulfilment of visceral impulses and to rehabilitate the pleasure of eating, as experienced in countries such as France and Italy, where the prevalence of obesity and eating disorders is noticeably low.”

Source: Journal of Marketing Research

Published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1509/jmr.14.0299

“Pleasure as a Substitute for Size: How Multisensory Imagery Can Make People Happier with Smaller Food Portions.”

Authors: Yann Cornil and Pierre Chandon

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