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Past Issue • Oct-Dec 2013

Supersizing Taste: Intuitions about Food and Consumer Choice

Many consumers believe that “unhealthy = tasty,” and its reverse that “healthy = not tasty.” In his study on the pervasiveness of these beliefs and their subconscious influence on consumption, Professor Raj Raghunathan explores the beliefs’ origins, and urges policy makers, businesses leaders, and individual consumers to curb its dangerous spread.*

In 1991, McDonald’s introduced a burger called McLean. McLean was lower in fat than the regular burger. Further, blind taste tests revealed that McLean was better tasting than the regular burger. Food scientists achieved this remarkable feat – of making McLean burger healthier and tastier – by infusing the burger with artificial fat flavours. Yet, McLean failed miserably in the marketplace: It was pulled off the McDonald’s menu within a year of its launch.

In 1991, McDonald’s introduced a burger called McLean. McLean was lower in fat than the regular burger. Further, blind taste tests revealed that McLean was better tasting than the regular burger. Food scientists achieved this remarkable feat – of making McLean burger healthier and tastier – by infusing the burger with artificial fat flavours. Yet, McLean failed miserably in the marketplace: It was pulled off the McDonald’s menu within a year of its launch.
Why did McLean fail?
One interesting possibility lies in the name that McDonald’s chose for the burger. The name “McLean” connotes not just lower fat and caloric content, but also lack of taste and flavour, especially for those who believe that healthy food cannot also be tasty. Is it possible that those who tried McLean thought that it tasted bad just because they expected it to taste bad – even though blind taste tests had found that it tasted better?

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

  • Raj-Raghunathan-feb7

    Raj Raghunathan

    Visiting faculty at the Indian School of Business and Professor in the Department of Marketing at McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.
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