Supersizing—though the official term, created by McDonald’s in the 1990s, has disappeared from fast food places, the concept never really left. Consumers will still purchase, and generally eat more food if they feel like they are getting a better deal.
“We know the health implications of a giant latte or supersized fries, so a little justification through feeling financially savvy and saving money makes us feel better about our decision and increases consumption,” said Kelly L. Haws, a marketing researcher Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt University.
Haws is part of a research team that recently found consumers aren’t just looking for deals on unhealthy fast food meals. In fact, Haws and co-author Karen Winterich found that the supersizing effect works just as well on healthier food choices.
“One of the studies in our research paper shows similar ‘supersizing’ effects happening with the purchase of baby carrots,” Haws said. “Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is a larger bag of baby carrots.”
Essentially, the research shows that consumers are interested in getting the most bang for their buck, whether they purchase healthy food or not.
Perhaps you’ve seen the graphic floating around online showing three different sized bottles of Coke. The smallest is the most expensive, and the largest is the cheapest. As a consumer, even if you originally wanted the smaller bottle, you’re more likely to purchase the full 2 liters because of the better deal.
That’s the mindset the supersizing effect puts us in. Sure, we’re purchasing more food than we want or need, but we’re saving a couple dollars while doing so. It’s the mindset stores like Sam’s capitalize on every day. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk.
Haws and Winterich think the supersizing effect can apply to healthier foods. By going along with the desire to buy more, cheaper, companies could help some people make healthier choices. Haws also feels that instead of the supersizing effect, prices should better reflect the amount of food consumers are actually purchasing.
“There’s no question in my mind we would get many more consumers to choose the smaller entree size if the price were exactly proportional to the size of food that they’re receiving.”