Battle of the Brands:
Consumer Research Challenges Tastebuds
Hey - it's lunchtime! How many calories do you suppose you're eating
when you split a chicken nuggets meal with a friend? What if you
eat the whole serving yourself? Have any idea how many calories
are in that submarine sandwich and potato chips?
These and other burning questions about food were the subject of
the 2004 Battle of the Brands, an annual study conducted under the
auspices of the Food and Brand Lab in the College of Business. Brian
Wansink, professor of business administration and director of
the lab, offers students the opportunity to design and implement
their own consumer studies as part of an independent study class
in the lab.
Members of the Graduate Marketing Association (GMA) helped Wansink
coordinate the logistics. "We provided the advertising and
manpower and tried to get people involved," said Beth Jones,
the president of the chapter. A second-year MBA student with a particular
interest in marketing research and pricing, Jones said the Battle
of the Brands is a great learning experience for anyone in her field.
Jones said the projects were "cool and relevant," citing
one study designed to determine what type of person is predisposed
to gain the infamous "freshman 15" - the additional pounds
frequently put on when students start college. Other projects investigated
situational overeating, sensory evaluations, packaging, and how
mood impacts food choices.
One of the stations displayed four different portion sizes of two
different lunch meals: a chicken nuggets and French fry combo called
the "hearty" meal and a sub sandwich and chips plate dubbed
the "healthy" meal. Participants had to compare the calories
between the four portions and put the calorie difference on their
survey forms. A series of personality questions followed. Wansink
said that, in general, people overestimate the calories in the smaller
portions but tend to underestimate on larger portions.
Real consumption in the name of market research took place at several
of the stations. At one, participants were asked to sample several
individually wrapped, randomly selected candies. All came from sources
outside the US and proved that not all cultures agree on what constitutes
a "candy" treat. After sampling their delicacies, participants
were asked to rank their experience. The underlying research question
being answered was how people think about what they eat. Does one
bad sensory experience in a meal cause someone to consider the whole
Garlic jelly beans were available at another table along with more
traditional flavors like lemon and cherry. Participants were asked
to consume the flavors they thought they would like the most and
the least. And the flavor that fell at the midpoint of their list
was also sampled. This sensory evalutation project in part looked
at the order of consumption -- would you save your favorite flavor
until last or would you eat it first?
The Battle of the Brands is in its seventh year. Results are available
on the Food and Brands Lab
Scoping out portion size.
Jelly beans. Some are tasty. Some aren't.
The Battle of the Brands thrives on data.
Samples of "candy" were available at one station.