Attractive Vegetable Names Improves Their Consumption in Schools

Marketing has long been known as a tool to influence purchase and consumption of food in general, yet it is rarely used to facilitate selection and consumption of healthier foods specifically. Consider school lunch in the United States where children obtain a significant amount of their daily calorie intake. Marketing enters the lunchroom via private (food industry)-public (school district) contracts that make available a wide variety of foods—not all of them healthy. One way nutrition has improved recently is through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA has recently revamped their National School Lunch Program by reimbursing schools for free and reduced-priced meals offered only if the meals meet strict dietary guidelines resulting in healthier food options. However, simply increasing healthier food options may not necessarily result in children choosing and consuming them. Improving perceptions of healthier foods—such as vegetables—may help to increase consumption. We attempted to understand if simply giving vegetables attractive names during school lunch could improve their selection and consumption. If successful, this approach could provide a simple, cost-effective and sustainable way to increase vegetable consumption in schools. Read on!

X-Ray Vision Carrots

In the first example, 147 students (8-11 years old) from five different schools were served lunch at their school as usual— except roughly a third were offered carrots labeled “X-Ray Vision Carrots”, a third carrots labeled “Food of the Day,” and a third carrots with no label. While no differences in carrot labeling were found regarding amount of carrots chosen, the percentage of carrots consumed was much greater for “X-Ray Vision Carrots.” That is, students given “X-Ray Vision Carrots” consumed 65.9% of their carrots compared to 32% of carrots labeled “Food of the Day,” and 35.1% of the unlabeled carrots.

Does this Work Over Time?

To understand if the idea of giving attractive names to vegetables worked over time in a much larger group of students, we implemented this strategy with other vegetables, over two months, and in two different schools. In lunch lines, vegetables were given attractive names that were printed on cards and placed next to each item. With over 40,000 lunch transactions and compared to when vegetables were unnamed, we found a 109.4% increase for selecting broccoli (i.e., “Power Punch Broccoli”), 176.9% increase in selecting green beans (i.e., “Silly Dilly Green Beans”), and a 30.2% increase in selecting carrots (i.e., “X-Ray Vision Carrots).

Parting Observations

Perhaps most encouraging about these results is that the attractive names were created by a student volunteer who also implemented the second study by himself. That is, simple changes in lunchrooms devised locally and implemented easily can sometimes have large impacts on the behavior of others, which over-time, can improve the health of many. In this case, simple marketing principles can have somewhat dramatic effects on vegetable selection and consumption.

Wansink B, Just DR, Payne CR, Klinger MZ. “Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools.” Prev Med. 2012 Oct;55(4):330-2.