To test the impact of labelling on the consumption of healthier food, researchers collaborated with the Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises and conducted their study in a large dining hall on campus. They changed the labels for certain vegetables and made them sound more enticing using four types of descriptions: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent. For example, beetroots were labelled as 'lighter choice beets with no added sugar' (healthy restrictive), green beans were simply called 'green beans' (basic), carrots were described as 'smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots' (healthy positive) and they were not just sweet potatoes but 'zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes' (indulgent).
They made sure there was enough variety with a choice of vegetables like beetroot, butternut squash, carrot, corn, courgette, green beans and sweet potato that were rotated weekly. Researchers monitored the number of diners who chose the particular vegetable and how much of it was consumed for lunch over a period of 46 days (an academic quarter). No changes were made to the way the food was cooked and presented. They were only labelled differently but the diners were not aware of the fact that different sounding choices were the exact same item.
It was found that vegetables with indulgent labels were preferred 25 percent more than basic labelling, 35 percent more than healthy positive and 41 percent more than healthy restrictive labels. In terms of per day consumption, vegetables with indulgent labelling were consumed 16 percent more than those labelled healthy positive, 23 percent more than basic and 33 more than healthy restrictive labels. It is believed that people consider healthy food to be less tasty and therefore, using delicious sounding descriptions and names can change their perspective and impact their sensory experience.
The results of the study provide insights on how to encourage people to eat well by making healthy food more appealing. This simple strategy of changing the descriptions and making healthy food sound more indulgent and drool-worthy could have a significant impact on the food choices we make.