Food Marketing Psychology – Duping You to Eat More

Portion Size Growth

Question: How do you get people to order the larger (and more profitable) food portion even though they know they need to cut down?

Answer: soothe their worries by labeling a “large” portion as “small” or “medium”

Don’t think you’d fall for such a simple marketing trick? Cornell University scientists conducted a simple experiment to show that size labels set up expectations and can forecast consumption. A group of subjects were fed either one or two cups of pasta. Some of the two-cup servings were listed as “normal”, and some were listed as “double size”.

The people consuming a two cup portion labelled as “normal” ate much more than their counterparts who saw the “double size” label.

This easy cheat is also evident in beverages. The standard serving for soft drinks is one cup – 8 fluid ounces. But most cans sold in vending machines are 12 ounces. Bottles drinks often come in 20 ounce portions, all for consumption by a single person.

At Starbucks, the portion sizes are not only skewed to large, the names are confusing as well: Tall (12 ounces), Grande (16), and Venti (24).

It gets even harder to order the smaller options when you do the financial calculation – the larger portion almost always is cheaper per ounce than the smaller one.

What to do when you’re eating out?

  • make sure you know what the proper serving size is
  • ask your server / waiter what the portion size is for the dish you are ordering
  • order the smaller option (including kid sized portions)
  • share your dish with your dining partner
  • drink water – no serving size limit!

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  • Michele Hays

    This is the approach that New York City SHOULD have taken: make it a truth-in-advertising campaign instead of a stop-obesity campaign.

    Interestingly, the director of the Cornell Food & Brand lab was opposed to the New York Soda “ban.”

  • Tyler

    This is so true! And don’t forget the food parlor guy at the movies: “For just 1 dollar more, you could get a medium/large sized drink instead of small/medium. Would you like that?” A simple trick and the profits add up!