Taste-Focused Labels Encourage Healthier Eating

Taste-focused labeling might be the key to getting people to select and eat more vegetables, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science.

In their introduction, the research authors wrote that: “Public health efforts to improve dietary intake have long relied on providing nutrition information. Unfortunately, these strategies have had limited impact. One short-coming of health-focused messages is that they are odds with taste goals in the moment of food choice.”

They conducted a preregistered intervention study at five schools that are members of The Menus of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC), which the researchers grouped as Schools A through E, with a sixth school registered but not part of the data collection process. All eligible schools were required to have one large dining hall with a main serving hall that changed daily and served at least one protein, one starch, and one cooked vegetable. Subsequently, the researchers arbitrarily assigned each vegetable on the menu a taste-focused, health-focused, or nondescriptive label in a 1:1:1 ration to ensure that each dish received the label at least once. The researchers initiated the study in the second or third week of each academic school year and concluded the study after the completion of three menu cycles.

The taste-focused labels were tailored to provide expectations of a positive dining experience using terms suggesting taste, excitement, indulgence, tradition, preparation, or geographic location (e.g. “creamy”, “sizzling”, “mouthwatering”, “homestyle”). The two primary endpoints of the study were defined as the selection and consumption of vegetables, and the secondary endpoint tested each vegetable dish’s tastiness.

Tailoring to Taste Matters

Following data analysis, the findings of the study showed over the duration of 185 days, 137,842 diner decisions, and 24 vegetable types, taste-focused labels increased vegetable selection by 29% juxtaposed to only 14% with basic labels. Moreover, the researchers observed that vegetable intake increased.

The research authors wrote in their conclusion that “these findings demonstrate the taste-focused labeling in a scalable, low-cost, wise intervention for increasing vegetable intake. While research and policy have justifiably called for limiting the public’s exposure to appealing advertising of unhealthy foods and for using calorie labels, red “traffic light” labels, and graphic warning labels to discourage unhealthy choices, few approaches leverage tasty and enjoyable components of healthier foods. The present reach demonstrates the possibility and critical importance of intervening in the problem from the other direction – increasing the lure of healthy foods.”