Research News

Pennies vs. Pounds: How “supersizing” could actually lead to healthier choices

You’re trying to eat right. You’re exercising. Soon the pounds will melt off. The problem? “Supersizing.” Consumers often can’t pass up a ‘supersize’ deal, even if it makes them fat.

“We know the health implications of a giant latte or supersized fries, so a little justification through feeling financially savvy and saving money makes us feel better about our decision and increases consumption,” said Vanderbilt marketing researcher Kelly L. Haws.

But new research by Haws and co-author Karen Winterich found that consumers may be just as willing to buy healthy food if they feel they’re still getting a deal.

“One of the studies in our research paper shows similar ‘supersizing’ effects happening with the purchase of baby carrots. [rquote]Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots,” said Haws.[/rquote]

Haws found that by feeding into consumers’ desire to get a bargain, the same economic “supersizing” mindset that leads to dangerously unhealthy choices could help some people with healthier options as well.

“There’s no question in my mind we would get many more consumers to choose the smaller entre size if the price were exactly proportional to the size of food that they’re receiving,” said Haws.

The research also found that reminders of nutritional goals – such as signs – can have some mitigating effect on the harmful effects of supersizing.

The phrase that pays

The term “supersizing” was coined by the McDonald’s corporation in the mid-1990s to denote the practice of selling larger portions of fries and drinks for disproportionately small increases in price.

McDonald’s dropped the term by the early 2000’s. But it’s an effective business practice that lives on, especially in the fast food industry.

Haws said that businesses are taking what they’ve learned about the consumer mindset to the healthier side as well with pre-packaged smaller quantities such as “100 calorie packs.”

Follow the French, not French fries

Winterich and Haws say American consumers would be wise to follow the lead of the French if they wish to indulge in high caloric foods.

“That is, consumers may eat indulgent foods as the French are perceived to do, yet if they do so in small quantities, they should avoid excessive weight gain.”

And avoid supersizing.

Haws’ and Winterich’s paper “When Value Trumps Health in a Supersized World,” was published in Journal of Marketing. Haws is associate professor of management at theVanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management and Winterich is assistant professor of marketing at Smeal College of Business at Penn State.