Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - If Marketing Used Its Power for Good

Changing consumer behavior is an obsession in our culture.  We've seen how marketing companies put billions of dollars into altering the behavior of children, and how it pays off for them handsomely.  But what if someone decided to use marketing strategies to improve consumer behavior and steer people towards choices that are better for them?

The Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics, a division of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has been studying the behavior of children in school lunchrooms and showing how a few subtle changes can steer children away from the less healthy choices and towards the healthier ones.  For instance, a few simple changes they note are keeping ice cream in a closed, windowless freezer; labeling healthier foods with more exciting names; and simply having lunchroom staff suggest that children take a fruit.  They have shown that simple changes like these - changes which often do not require any money to implement - result in a marked improvement of students' choices at lunchtime.

This approach is not limited to school lunchrooms.  A study (sponsored by a group of "light" products under the umbrella "Simple Substitutes") by the Food Marketing Institute and Catalina Marketing notes 3 major hurdles to planning healthy meals:  40% of respondents said they were difficult to plan for, 36% said they were difficult to shop for, and 35% said they were difficult to prepare, and these numbers were even higher for families with children. Grocers can use the same kinds of marketing and placement principles as the lunchroom study to make healthful shopping easier.  For instance, simply highlighting a vegetable near the front of the store with a display and targeted lighting can be enough to draw consumers' attention.  Offering cooking demonstrations in the produce aisle (instead of defrosting prepared foods,) can also help customers make better choices.  Healthy foods are often the most perishable, so increasing their sales has the added benefit of decreasing spoilage loss for the grocer.


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