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Food companies are torn between two groups of stakeholders: hungry consumers and concerned public policy officials aiming to control obesity. However, it is possible for companies to provide win–win solutions to de–market. For example, we found that 57% consumers are willing to pay up to 15% more for portion–controlled items, counteracting increased production costs for food companies. While targeting this "portion–prone" segment will not initially address the immediate needs of all consumers, it can help companies develop profitable win–win changes.
There are two basic principles of food acquisition and consumption: the law of least effort and the taste–nutrition tradeoff. Consumers seek convenience at a low cost, such as pre–packaged foods, drive–through restaurants, and delivery services. The taste–nutrition tradeoff results from the evolutionary tactics that helped our ancestors survive: the taste preferences for fat, salt, and sugar, since foods with these tastes were safe for our ancestors to eat. Food is no longer a scarcity, but we are still hardwired to prefer the "good tasting" food and all that fat, salt, and sugar it provides.
We found four tactics that can be used to reverse these drivers of obesity. Firstly, companies can alter convenience by altering package–size and portions, as noted above. Secondly, companies can alter their products without altering their price: for example, changing the product's presentation itself. Thirdly, companies can manipulate their recipes without compromising taste. We have found that even small changes on labels can alter people's taste perceptions of foods: for example, giving descriptive, evocative names to restaurant items improves taste ratings and patronage approval. Another way to decrease the amount of calories that consumers eat is to modify the formulation of these foods to improve their nutritional content. We have found that slight modification of foods does not affect their volume of consumption, perceived satisfaction, and taste preferences. Lastly, by providing simple, realistic nutritional labels, food companies can inform their consumers and appease policy makers. We found that nutritional labels might be most effective if they focused on the consequences of eating a product instead of the characteristics or attributes of the product itself. We conclude that the first steps toward an obesity solution utilize market–based changes that help consumers prefer healthy foods.-