Salads and Frappuccinos

What influenzes your food choices? Are you being fed (mis)information through marketing, advertising and packaging that directs your subconscious food choices. How does the environment around you affect what you put in your shopping cart?


Today, I went to an interesting talk by Dr. Lauren G. Block hosted at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

Lauren Block’s research focuses on how consumers’ choices are influenced by nutrition-related marketing cues in supermarkets and restaurants. Block has examined how labels and packaging, even when well-meaning, can mislead consumers into making poor nutrition choices. Among her surprising conclusions is that people make worse decisions about what to eat when healthy items are available.


Food safety. Are you the kind of person, who cuts off the moldy ends of your cheese block and then eats the rest? When I was growing up my mum would cut off the blue stuff and then feed us the rest. Now that I’m grown up and know about microbiology, I tend to throw the fuzzy cheese to my dog. In her talk, Lauren asked the question “What about expiry dates? Do you pay any attention to expiry dates on what you buy?” After admitting that she regularly eats expired yogurt from fridge, Lauren linked expiry dates to food safety issues. She showed research that showed if you’ve bought an item already (i.e., the yogurt is already in your fridge), you’re twice as likely to eat it, and you’ve got less of a chance to get sick. Our unconscious choices affect our relationship with consuming products.

Packaging. The next subject area that Lauren covered was, “How does packaging influence our tendency for overconsumption?” Lauren took the audience through several great examples. Essentially, the marketing approach of “Pay Less, Get More” is what is driving us to indulge. The Hollywood Chocolate Chip Cookie Diet was my favorite example that was presented.
The Hollywood Cookie Diet

It’s no wonder that we have a problem with obesity in the world today.

Choices. The talk rounded off with a discussion of how consumers make choices on Fast Food menus. Interestingly, if a salad is on a menu, Lauren’s research shows that you’re more likely to order fries. Just because consumers want salads and oranges on the menu, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will eat it. Man, that’s depressing. The audience had lots of good suggestions for how we could change our attitudes towards consuming, dieting, and marketing for the better. As you may or may not know, there are a lot of unconscious behaviours that drive your consumer choices.

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Joanne often gets really excited when she talks about Science. Luckily, she works in the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory, the educational arm of the Michael Smith Labs. She likes all kinds of science but has a special spot in her heart for biology, technology, and well, sports. As a scientist and educator at UBC, she hopes that she never becomes so specialized that she loses her global perspective. (When she gets around to writing an intro post, I'm sure that she'll link to it here).