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Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity

Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity

by Brian Wansink

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Although encouraging people to eat more nutritiously can promote better health, most efforts by companies, health professionals, and even parents are disappointingly ineffective. Consumer confusion has lead to floundering sales for soy foods; embarrassing results for expensive Five-a-Day for Better Health programs; and uneaten mountains of vegetables at homes and in


Although encouraging people to eat more nutritiously can promote better health, most efforts by companies, health professionals, and even parents are disappointingly ineffective. Consumer confusion has lead to floundering sales for soy foods; embarrassing results for expensive Five-a-Day for Better Health programs; and uneaten mountains of vegetables at homes and in school cafeterias. Brian Wansink's Marketing Nutrition focuses on why people eat the foods they do, and what can be done to improve their nutrition.

Wansink argues that the true challenge in marketing nutrition lies in leveraging new tools of consumer psychology (which he specifically demonstrates) and by applying lessons from other products' failures and successes. The same tools and insights that have helped make less nutritious products popular also offer the best opportunity to reintroduce a nutritious lifestyle. The key problem with marketing nutrition remains, after all, marketing.

About the Author:
Brian Wansink is professor of applied economics of marketing and of nutritional science at Cornell Universlty. He is the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Marketing Nutrition moves theory and research into practice. There are enormous economic dividends for health care providers, public health institutions, and commercial food companies if we are successful in doing this."—Dr. David Mela, Expertise Group Leader, Unilever Health Institute

"An insightful book that deftly blends the scientific knowledge of a nutritionist with the wisdom and practical skill of a trained marketer."—The Midwest Book Review

"This extensive, yet succinct, blueprint for effective marketing has something for everyone." — Gastronomica

"...while this book does not target chefs, per se, any chef interested in nutrition and how consumers build their eating patterns and determine their food choices will be educated by the anecdotes and informational studies."—National Culinary Review

"Marketing Nutrition offers a ‘win-win' proposition for all concerned.  Insightful companies, health professionals, and policy makers can lead the way . . . in helping people eat  better and enjoy food more."  —Dr. James O. Hill, Director of Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Medical School

"It is critical that the U.S. government recognizes that intelligently focused nutrition-related efforts are important in helping lead Americans of all ages to lead healthier lifestyles. Marketing Nutrition shows how simple solutions can save lives." —Congressman Timothy V. Johnson, United States House of Representatives

Product Details

University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
Food Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Marketing Nutrition

Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity
By Brian Wansink

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2007 Brian Wansink
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780252074554

Chapter One

Nutrition Knowledge That Matters

Many people want to believe that nutritional knowledge is power. That is, they believe that if we can simply educate people so that they can pass a nutrition quiz, they will all eat better.

Almost everyone knows that fruit is better for them than cookies, that a salad is better for them than french fries, and that broiled fish is better for them than a deep-fried pork chop. Despite this knowledge, cookie sales remain high, pork production is increasing, and even though a $0.99 garden salad at Burger King is less expensive than a $1.29 order of french fries, it is outsold by more than thirty to one.

Does nutritional knowledge really have such little impact on behavior? When past studies have tried to tie the two together, they typically compare people who have nutritional knowledge with people who have none. Yet "having knowledge" is not an all-or-nothing state. We have differing degrees of knowledge about almost everything. We have differing degrees of knowledge about the state capitals, about French nouns, and about nutrition. Few people know "all or nothing" about anything. The thesis of this chapter isthat how much nutrition information consumers are given is less important than what information they are given.

Before examining what information we should try to communicate to consumers, it may be useful to see where consumers get the nutrition information they trust most. A 2002 study by the Food Marketing Institute found some insights relevant to the dissemination of nutrition information (Figure 1.1). The most frequently used and one of the most trusted sources for nutrition education was magazines. Among the least used and least trusted sources were nutritionists.

Clearly something we are doing is wrong. We are not providing compelling, trusted information in an easily accessible manner. Perhaps we have been too concerned with the science and nuances of nutrition and not about the day-to-day, practical, low-involvement use of nutrition information. Let's examine the different types of nutrition information and how they appear to be used on a daily basis.

The Two Tiers of Nutritional Knowledge

Whether someone eats healthful foods is related partly to the type of knowledge he or she has about nutrition. The adoption of healthful foods is associated with two different tiers of knowledge. On a basic level, we can have attribute-level knowledge about a food. This is where we can identify a food's features or attributes, such as its calorie content, fat level, or protein density. On a higher level, we can have knowledge that is more consequence related. It is centered around knowing that "this food makes me fat" or "it is bad for my heart." Most nutrition education efforts are focused on attribute-level knowledge. It is focused on passing a multiple-choice nutrition quiz. This chapter focuses on how both types of knowledge are related to the acceptance and consumption of a functional food.

Throughout this book, functional foods refers to those that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition (Table 1.1). A functional food can be naturally functional (such as oatmeal, which contains cholesterol-reducing beta glucan), or it can contain an added ingredient that makes the traditional food functional (such as probiotic bacteria added to yogurt). Functional foods can be divided into categories based on whether they contribute to gut health (such as fermented yogurt drinks), bone health (such as calcium-enriched milk or juice), heart health (such as soy), or immune system health (such as broccoli). Functional foods can also be seen as embedded in a continuum ranging from normal foods (potatoes) to nutritious foods (fruit juice) to health foods (herbal tea) to functional foods (protein drinks) to medicine (vitamins).

With the recent increase in interest in diet and nutrition, encouraging people to eat functional foods has become faddish, and it has helped boost initial interest and sales. Unfortunately, people often are hesitant to try unfamiliar foods, even when they believe these foods to have healthful or functional properties. If people link their knowledge of a food's attributes to personal health-related consequences, they are more likely to accept and consume a new food. The relationship between food acceptance and these different tiers of thinking is illustrated as a hierarchy of nutritional knowledge in Figure 1.2. This hierarchy of knowledge suggests that consumer knowledge about a food exists on multiple levels that range from attribute knowledge to consequence knowledge. Whereas attributes relate to the food, consequences relate to how the foods influence us (the consequences of consuming them).

People who have no knowledge of functional foods are unlikely to purchase them. Other people may have knowledge of a food's attributes, such as its calorie content or vitamin C level. Yet product attribute knowledge (on which much nutrition education has been focused) deals with only one portion of the knowledge hierarchy. Initial product knowledge involves understanding something about the food's attributes, but consumers are more likely to accept a functional food when they link their knowledge of that food's attributes to the personal consequences or benefits of consuming it. This is an important and useful insight. Linking food attribute knowledge to personal consumption consequence knowledge is more important than simply knowing a lot about a food's nutritional attributes or characteristics.

What Type of Nutritional Knowledge Influences Consumption?

Generally, functional foods are foods that provide a health benefit. They are foods or food components that can prevent disease or improve health beyond what basic nutrients can do. They can consist of naturally fortified or enhanced foods and can produce advantageous health consequences or other desirable effects. Although many functional foods have been around for quite some time, their beneficial aspects continue to be discovered, and other foods are being engineered to contain such advantageous elements.

To better understand the relationship between these different types of knowledge and consumption behavior, we focus on soy. Its nutritional advantages and its perceived taste-related disadvantages make it both a promising and challenging illustration of how knowledge links to behavior.

To determine how a person's knowledge is connected to whether he or she eats nutritious foods, we developed a twelve-page survey that asked a number of questions regarding soy-related food preferences, soy-related knowledge, soy-related consumption, and functional food-related knowledge. The survey also asked people to write down anything they knew about functional foods and to write down everything they knew about soy. This was mailed to a random sample of 1,302 North Americans who were given a check for six dollars in exchange for completing the study. Approximately one-half of these people responded in a timely enough manner to be included in the study (61 percent female, average age 43 years; see Wansink and Chan 2001 for details).

People Have Little Knowledge of Functional Foods

Most people completing the survey were not familiar with the term functional foods (78 percent). Looking more specifically at soy, 39 percent of the respondents did not know of any health benefits it offered, and 4 percent thought it had no health benefits at all. Only 7 percent mentioned both attributes and consequences. Of those who mentioned attributes, 28 percent cited high protein content, and 24 percent noted a low fat content.

The most frequently mentioned consequences were that they believed it reduced the risk of cancer (5 percent), was nutritious (4 percent), was good for menopause and female diseases (4 percent), and helped reduce cholesterol levels (4 percent). Although 34.6 percent knew of product attributes, they did not necessarily link the properties of the product to self-relevant consequences.


Excerpted from Marketing Nutrition by Brian Wansink Copyright © 2007 by Brian Wansink. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Brian Wansink is a professor of applied economics of marketing and of nutritional science at Cornell University. He is the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think.

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