Cherry Pi

Marketing Healthy Portions: Consumers, Biases, and Innovation

Marketing healthy portions of food is a tricky business that offers important opportunities for better health and healthy profits for food marketers who get it right. Portion distortion has been proposed as a contributing factor in the growth of obesity rates over the last three decades. In a special issue of Appetite, a collection of five new papers examine the consumer insights, biases, and opportunities for innovation that can help reverse the unfortunate trend toward larger food portions.

Wharton marketing professor Jason Riis provides an overview and commentary on four analyses that point to opportunities to serve a public health need and deliver meaningful business innovations for the food industry. Riis summarizes by saying:

Realistic solutions will need to address potential threats to profitability including increased costs of product development and operational complexity, as well as decreased revenue that may result from lower prices of smaller units and reduced consumer demand. Social missions, however, are important to many large companies and may thereby justify the investment and risk required to support innovation. In this sense, the long term health of the food industry – in addition to the health of consumers – depends on successful portion size innovation.

This is not a puzzle that can be solved without applying consumer marketing skills. Such skills are not part of the typical public health toolkit. Nor will the problem yield to a traditional regulatory approach. Consumer behavior is anything but formulaic. Success in changing it requires creativity. Marketing professionals contributed to this problem and they possess unique skills for solving it.

Goodwill is essential to any successful brand. That means that external pressure from public health stakeholders plays a role to motivate food marketers to meet the need. Marketers who can innovate first will prosper through stronger brands.

Click here for the overview by Riis et al. Click here, herehere, and here for four new analyses of critical factors for innovative solutions to portion distortion.

Cherry Pi, photograph © Bill Ward / flickr

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April 2, 2016

4 Responses to “Marketing Healthy Portions: Consumers, Biases, and Innovation”

  1. April 02, 2016 at 6:42 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Thanks, Ted. The implications for other consumer categories (and people who know me won’t struggle to ascertain which one I have in mind…sounds like “icotine”) are substantial.


    • April 02, 2016 at 6:52 am, Ted said:

      Very true, Joe. Thanks.

  2. April 03, 2016 at 4:18 am, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    Even if the food industry focuses on tightening up inappropriate massive portion peddling in categories that have greatest potential to adversely affect public health — soda (which we know is already being done), cakes, muffins, candy bars (also being done to some extent), cookies, burgers, fries, portions of other fried foods, etc. The categories of foods that have been documented to be health-advantageous and that the public needs more intake of — vegetables, fresh whole fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, water (already being done) — perhaps these items can be highlighted and marketed to encourage ‘bigger is better’ consumption. I wonder how that would play out! Technically, one can overeat anything — even really wholesome foods — to effect in excessive caloric intake, but it’s much much harder. As you say, marketeers are clever in convincing the public. This is a challenge to truly test their skills. Moreover, the time has come to very seriously address this issue responsibly, ethically, and effectively.

    • April 03, 2016 at 4:52 am, Ted said:

      Good perspective, Mary-Jo. Thank you!