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Bet you can't eat just 100: Labels, keywords affect consumer mindset about diet foods

September 12, 2018

ASU study shows the difference a calorie can make when it comes to influencing shoppers' health perceptions

In 2004, Kraft introduced a line of 100-calorie mini packs of some of their most popular snack foods, launching a snacking revolution. The smaller portions appealed to calorie-conscious shoppers and generated more than $75 million in sales that first year. Today, grocery store aisles are filled with the smaller-portioned bags and boxes, yet very little is known about how the package labeling and descriptions affect consumer preference.

Christopher Lee, marketing professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business, conducted a study to better understand how numerical and descriptive cues on 100-calorie packs affect consumer preference — and whether one calorie really makes a difference.

Question: If someone is faced with buying a 99-calorie pack, 100-calorie pack, or 101-calorie pack — which one are they more likely to choose? Does one calorie in either direction really make a difference?

Christopher Lee

Answer: In our research, respondents generally had more favorable attitudes to products with distinctive calorie information — 99 and 101— as opposed to nondistinctive — 100.

Another way to think about the results of our study is through the lens of pricing. Consumers tend to prefer things that end in 99, such as $5.99, even though the extra cent isn’t financially meaningful. It is not by accident that many of the products consumers buy — such as food and gas — tend to end with .99.

Our research is suggesting that, similar to pricing, a one-calorie difference may influence our perceptions about a product. That being said, attitudes and purchase intentions were the same for 99 or 101 calories, so it isn’t the direction of difference but rather the uniqueness of the calorie count.

Q: What happens to consumer preference when labels include a calorie count and descriptive words, like “mini” or “jumbo”? Does adding words make a difference?

A: Words do make a difference. When a consumer sees “jumbo” they think big, and when a consumer sees “tiny” they think small. Those words set a reference point, or expectation, of what the consumer will receive.

In our study, respondents rated products more favorably when “tiny” was paired with 99 calories than when it was paired with 100 calories. Similarly, respondents rated products more favorably when “jumbo” was paired with 100 calories than 99 calories.

When the descriptive words and calorie count didn’t align, for example “99 calories” and “jumbo”, consumers rated the products less favorably. Both the descriptive words — “jumbo” versus “tiny” — and calorie count — 99 versus 100 — combine to set an expectation. Aligning the descriptive words on the packaging with the calorie count on the nutrition label makes it easier for the consumer to process while also setting a consistent expectation of what the consumer will receive.

Q: What can food marketers take away from your research when it comes to consumer preference and package labeling?

A: Calorie counts are heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. FDA guidelines state that food with more than 50 calories should be rounded to the nearest 10 calories to allow for natural variability in products based on weather, soil, processing, etc. That is why when you’re shopping at a grocery store, you never see 99 calories or 101 calories.

Food marketers could potentially lobby the FDA for more flexibility with calorie counts given our research shows small calorie differences can influence perceptions. One option could be a compromise between marketers and policy makers that keeps calorie counts rounded to the nearest 5 or 10 calories on the nutrition label but allows the marketer to have an asterisk on the packaging outside of the nutrition-facts panel to indicate the actual calorie count.

In addition, food marketers should be aware of the relationship between package labels and calorie counts. Our research shows that both the calorie count and package labeling make meaningful differences in health perceptions.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

480-965-3779

 
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Conference at ASU puts gender-based violence in the spotlight

September 12, 2018

3 new initiatives — including domestic-violence certificate, the 1st on West Coast — expand university's reach into community

Social workers need to be on the front lines of imagining a world without oppression — the key to ending gender-based violence, according to experts at an Arizona State University conference on Wednesday.

“We need to envision a world without violence, a world centered around fierce, radical love and courage,” said Allie Bones, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. That organization partnered with the ASU School of Social Work on the daylong conference at the West campus, titled “Promoting Just and Effective Solutions to Ending Gender-Based Violence.”

“It was said that social work is about being anti-oppression, and as social workers we need to understand our role is to have that perspective,” she said, “whether it’s meeting the immediate needs of people who have experienced domestic violence and trauma or working in systems that need to be changed.”

ASU is expanding its reach into the community to help domestic-violence survivors. Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and part of the faculty of the Office of Gender Based Violence, announced three new initiatives at the event.

In the biggest change, more social work students will get paid while they intern with community agencies. For the past three years, the School of Social Work has had a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program to pay stipends to social work undergraduates and graduate students, who are required to have internships with social service agencies. Typically, those internships are unpaid, but under the AmeriCorps program, the students get stipends as well as additional training.

Under the expansion, not only will more students be in the program but they’ll be working at agencies that don’t necessarily focus on domestic violence explicitly but who serve survivors of domestic violence, such as organizations that work with the homeless. This will allow all types of agencies to use evidence-based interventions to help domestic-violence survivors.

The expanded program will be called Survivor Link.

“The logo has three intertwined links, which we’re thinking of as research, practice and education coming together in this idea of Survivor Link,” Messing said.

In 2015, ASU had 42 student AmeriCorps members who volunteered 17,000 hours and received $100,000 in scholarship money. This year, the office expects to have 93 AmeriCorps members work 56,000 hours and receive $310,000 in scholarships, she said.

In addition, this year, for the first time, ASU has eight AmeriCorps Vista workers, who are full-time employees deployed to help agencies work on projects. Five are working with domestic-violence community organizations, and three are working in the Office of Gender Based Violence.

Also new this year, ASU is offering a domestic-violence certificate program, both undergraduate and graduate, for anyone who has an interest in working in this area, not just social workers. The potential students, who might be in law enforcement or public administration, will take a course that was created with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and have internships working with survivors.

The certificates will make ASU the only school on the West Coast to have a specialized curriculum in domestic violence, Messing said.

At the conference, the attendees broke into groups and discussed “real solutions” to gender-based violence, such as teaching healthy dating behavior in schools, as well as “false solutions,” such as the criminalization of domestic violence, which many say has ended up harming more people than helping.

Georgie Hinojosa, a first-year master’s of social work student at ASU, said his group discussed culture and community engagement.

“We focused especially on not just teaching women how to be safe but also, how do we get men to talk about not being abusers, to let out frustrations in safe ways and deal with emotions they’re not allowed to talk about?” he said.

“We talked about how we think one of the most important things is having all interventions be culturally informed so we can give people the help they need that best speaks to their situation.”

Cultural competency — understanding the nuances of domestic violence within specific cultures — was the topic of the afternoon keynote address.

Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor at Howard University and a social worker, researches domestic-violence homicides in the black community. She described the many variables that play into the higher rates of deaths for black women. For example, they are less likely to ask for help from law enforcement or social service providers, mainly because of the fear that they will be arrested or their children will be removed — both of which are more likely to happen to black women than white women.

They’re also less likely to seek help because they face stereotypes such as the “angry black woman” or “strong black woman,” and many of the women have been socialized to protect black men, she said.

Bent-Goodley suggested that more domestic-violence interventions come from outside the criminal justice system because the threat of arrest deters many survivors who are in danger.

“This idea of me turning my husband or partner or father of my children over to a system that could hurt them, I’m not going to do that even if it hurts me,” she said.

“That’s where our cultural competence is very important because if we understand those dynamics, we can work through that as part of their care.”

Top photo: Members discuss their approaches to violence prevention through the discussion of false, feasible and real solutions to ending gender based violence, at a conference Sept. 12 hosted by the School of Social Work at the ASU West campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now