New research, co-authored by Bayes Business School, found that that the presence of individuals from different friendship or social groups played a role in influencing consumers' food choices.
The study, which explored food choices with those of a different race and from a different university, explains this occurs because individuals anticipate more negative judgement from outsiders. The research, which spoke to around 1,000 individuals in total, shows that people often self-categorize in terms of their race, university affiliation, and work affiliation. In one experiment, 180 students were offered the choice between indulgent M&Ms and healthier raisins as a snack. When in the presence of an unknown fellow student from one's own university, only 12 per cent of students selected the healthier raisins. However, this number more than doubled to 31 per cent when in the presence of an unknown student from another university.
The other experiments showed that the reason for this pattern is that people feel judged to a larger extent by outgroup members, and they strategically use healthy food choices to make a positive impression to counter this negative judgement. For example, 200 consumers were told that others around them were judgmental or were tolerant. In the judgmental environment, consumers were more likely to choose carrots over cookies than in the tolerant environment, which indicates that expected judgement from others explains the findings. Dr Janina Steinmetz, Associate Professor (Reader) of Marketing at Bayes, said the findings have practical implications for marketers of healthy foods and policy makers hoping to promote healthy eating.
"We know that food plays an important role in social life and consumers often make inferences about others' traits and characteristics based on their food choices."
"Our research shows that we can use this important role of food for consumer welfare if we highlight that healthy food is not only good for consumers, but also helps them to impress others. These findings could be very significant to those hoping to improve healthy eating practices in the UK because they open a new avenue to promote the benefits of healthy eating: It's good for you and your health, and it's also good for making a positive impression."