Pierre Chandon

How package design and packaged-based marketing claims lead to over-eating

What is packaging’s role in the obesity epidemic? How does it persuade us to over-eat? It’s a topic of academic study in a new working paper by Pierre Chandon, Professor of Marketing and Director of the INSEAD Social Science Research Centre, part of the famous business university outside Paris. [Excellent paper on the role of packaging as a marketing tool. And you can download the paper free, too. Ed]

The paper abstract:

Because packaging reaches consumers at the critical moments of purchase and consumption, it has become an important marketing tool for food manufacturers and retailers.

In this paper, I first review how the marketing, health and nutrition claims made on packaging create “health halos” and make foods appear healthier than they are, leading to higher consumption yet lower perceived calorie intake. I then show how packaging design (cues, shapes and sizes) bias people’s perception of quantity and increase their preference for supersized packages and portions that appear smaller than they are.

Finally, I examine the evidence on the effectiveness of public policies designed to limit the biasing effects of packaging on food perceptions and preferences.

To read Chandon’s article “How Package Design and Packaged-based Marketing Claims Lead to Overeating,” in its entirety, visit the Social Science Research Network electronic library at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2083618.

The role of the health halo

Food products advertised as healthy lead consumers to overeat and misjudge portion sizes, according to a French researcher. Package design and marketing claims of nutritional value form a “health halo,” says Pierre Chandon, director of the INSEAD Social Science Research Center in Paris.

Part of the reason why people overeat, Chandon says, is because they assume that food marketed as healthy has fewer calories. Chandon coined the term “health halo,” which he defines as marketing, health and nutrition claims made on packaging which make foods appear healthier than they are, leading to higher consumption yet lower perceived calorie intake.

He made the comparison that any foot-long Subway sandwich is often seen as having fewer calories than a McDonald’s Big Mac because Subway markets itself as a healthy fast food option. In his research, Chandon says people often assume that they can eat more of supposedly “good” food. In a 2006 study, Chandon found that by labeling chocolate candies as “low fat,” consumption during one meal increased by 16 percent for normal-weight people and 46 percent among those who are overweight. However, this had no effect on their estimates of how many calories they had eaten.

“Health halos are pervasive because people tend to approach food with a qualitative mindset [thinking that] food is either good or bad and if the food is good in one particular nutritional aspect, it has to be good on everything, whereas reality is a lot more complicated,” says Chandon.

In the new BBC documentary series, “The Men Who Made Us Fat,” Chandon explains that food marketers see an opportunity in marketing food as healthy and that the health-conscious eaters are likely to be misled.

“The paradox of low fat food and high fat people is not going to go away, I think it’s just going to get worse,” Chandon says in the documentary.

Unlike mandatory nutrition facts on food packaging, the information on the front of food packaging is at the will of the marketers. This information includes brand names, imagery, benefit claims, seals and endorsements.

You can see an excerpt of Prof Chandon’s interview for this programme on this BBC clip: click here