Food Environment: Consumption Occasions

Jell-O AgainIt’s interesting to trace the slow evolution of thinking about the food environment and efforts to understand why it seems to be triggering ever more obesity. Food policy advocates have shifted from worrying about too much fat, to a focus on sugar, and now toward thinking that the problem must be ultra-processed foods with too much sugar, salt, and fat. But in truth, if they want to understand the food environment, these folks need to think more broadly. Food marketers do. They understand that if they want people to consume more of their food product, they need to pay attention to consumption occasions.

A good food marketer needs to find ways to prompt people to enjoy their product in more places, at more times, in more ways.

The composition of food is complex and important.  But it’s only part of the food environment prompting us to consume more than we need for good health.

More Occasions, More Sales

Consumption occasions are important for driving sales volume for food and other consumer goods. Marketing consultants at Kantar explain it succinctly:

“Rather than focusing on what your product is, brands, retailers and manufacturers should think about what occasion it is for. Weekend brunches, dinner parties, quick lunchtime bites or TV dinners all have their own characteristics, and what consumers choose to eat or drink will be specifically suited to each event.”

This is how Jell-O morphed from a simple dessert to a salad and many other forms. More usage occasions meant more consumption, more sales, and a bigger brand.

Beyond Hunger and Satiety

Much research goes into understanding how the body regulates hunger, satiety, and thus, eating behaviors. It’s important. However, the food environment shapes those behaviors, too. Back in 2010, Barry Popkin and Kiyah  Duffey indirectly pointed to this. They suggested that factors beyond hunger and satiety might be driving increased food consumption:

“U.S. children and adults are consuming foods more frequently throughout the day than they did 30 years ago. Researchers undertaking future clinical, preload, and related food studies need to consider these marked shifts as they attempt to design their research to fit the reality of the eating patterns of free-living individuals.”

A Healthy Food Environment

Merely regulating sugar, salt, and fat may not be adequate to shape a healthier food environment. Tasty, convenient, and appealing food products can come in an infinite variety of forms. Many factors – like usage occasions – can drive unhealthy patterns of food consumption and thus, an unhealthy food environment.

The food industry understands the full breadth of these factors better than many food policy advocates. So it’s time to think more broadly about creating a healthier food environment. Constructive engagement with food industry expertise wouldn’t hurt, either

Click here for the paper by Popkin and Duffey in AJCN and here for further insights on occasion-based marketing.

Jell-O Again, advertising illustration by N.C. Wyeth / Wikimedia Commons

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November 12, 2022

One Response to “Food Environment: Consumption Occasions”

  1. November 13, 2022 at 11:24 am, virginia erwin said:

    Convenience is king!