We're kicking off a new year, and since so many people make resolutions like "get healthy", "eat 'clean'" (whatever that means), and "lose weight", I thought a healthy food article with some monetary incentive might just make your mouth water.
What if everything you thought about healthy food costing more was in your head? So before you slurp down your $10 juice, or pound your $8 protein bar... Read on.
People believe healthy food is more expensive, and that expensive food is healthier. These are "lay theories" - philosophies people use to make sense of their social environment. However, these lay theories aren't supported by science. On a side note, if you're interested in some "cheap eats" hacks, check out 10+ Ways to Eat Healthy for Cheap.
Spoiler alert: A series of new experiments show that people not only believe the lay theories that expensive=healthy and healthy=expensive, but they make purchasing decisions based on them.
Here's an outline of the experiments and their findings.
- Participants were told about a new product called "granola bites"
- Some participants were told the bites scored an A- on a health scale, others told they scored a C
- Outcome: The participants told the bites scored an A- thought they would be more expensive than those told the bites scored a C
- Participants were asked to rate a breakfast cracker on its healthfulness
- Outcome: Participants rated the more expensive cracker as healthier than the cheaper (identical) cracker
Interpretation: People believe the lay theory operates in both directions: Healthy equals expensive and expensive equals healthy.
Next, the researchers wanted to see if people would act on this belief.
- Participants were to imagine their coworker asked them to buy them lunch
- Half the group was told the coworker requested a healthy lunch, the other half weren't given such instruction
- Participants were shown two chicken wraps and their ingredients (chicken balsamic or roasted chicken wrap)
- Some participants saw the chicken balsamic wrap was more expensive, where others saw the roasted chicken wrap was more expensive
- Outcome: The participants shopping for the healthy lunch were more likely to pick the higher priced wrap (regardless which one it was)
- Participants were to imagine themselves at a supermarket looking at 4 different trail mixes, each at different price points
- "Perfect Vision Trailmix" was the product the researchers asked about, some participants were shown the mix was "high in vitamin A for eye health", others saw "high in DHA for eye health" (both ingredients are good for eye health, but DHA is not a well known ingredient)
- Some participants saw "Perfect Vision Trailmix" at an average price point, others at a high price point (more expensive than the other 3 mixes), they were then asked about their perceptions of the key ingredient (vitamin A or DHA)
- Outcome: When vitamin A was the key ingredient, people thought it was part of a healthy diet at either price point
- Interpretation: Most likely because people are familiar with vitamin A and feel they can judge its value without price cues
- Outcome: When the key ingredient was DHA, people thought it was part of a healthy diet at the high price point, not as much at the average price point
- Interpretation: Most likely because people aren't familiar with DHA, they go back to the lay theory that expensive=healthier
- Participants imagined a new protein bar called "Healthiest Protein Bar on the Planet"
- They were told this bar would compete against other bars averaging $2
- Some participants were told this bar would cost $0.99, others were told it would cost $4
- Participants were offered to read reviews of the bar before offering their opinions
- Outcome: Significantly more reviews were read by participants told the bar would only cost $0.99
- Interpretation: People needed to convince themselves that the "Healthiest Protein Bar on the Planet" could be cheaper than an average priced bar
The all important breakdown and take home messages:
- These results collectively show that people are biased towards lay theories
- People are acting on these beliefs when buying and assessing food products
- Marketers are taking advantage of consumer's bias
- Buyer beware
- Buyer be smart
- Buyer do your research - read the nutrition label and ingredient list to make your decision
- Buyer be aware of your bias and overcome it